Three Durham Regional Police officers are being hailed as heroes after they jumped into frigid waters to save a man in distress, as well as his friend.
We’re now learning more about that cold Saturday night as the officers are now able to tell their story.
“I came down to the water line and could see a faint cell phone light,” says Acting Sgt. Mark Pillman.
He was the first responder on scene when police received a call for a male in distress at Oshawa’s Lakeview Park.
“I ran from the parking lot, over the fence and I heard the voice of the friend. He was further out,” Pillman explained. In total, there were two people in the water — one of them trying to save the other.
Once Pillman knew they were out there, he knew he had to do something. So he jumped into the ice-cold water.
The two men may have been in the water for several minutes, meaning he had seconds to make a choice.
“I stripped off some of my gear to not weigh me down and I just leapt in,” he said. “I didn’t even feel the cold, just the weight of the water.”
By the time he reached them, the two were losing feeling due to the frigid waters. In neck-deep water, the officer was also feeling the effects of hypothermia, as the air temperature was below zero that night.
After just minutes, his partners, constables Sarah Porter and Danielle Claxton, arrived on the scene, realizing three people were now in the water — including their fellow police officer.
First Claxton jumped in, then Porter.
“With the unknowing of what could potentially be out there, or the state of everyone, I made the decision to go out there as well,” says Porter.
The two officers were able to swim up to Pillman, who, by that point, was able to negotiate with the male to come in. But it was hard for him and the two men to move.
“He’s out there longer than I am, he can’t come to me. I asked him to come closer and reach out to me and he can’t,” Pillman said.
“That was when I turned around and officer Claxton and officer Porter were swimming out.”
“It’s crazy what adrenaline does to your body,” says Claxton, who swam out first. “I think I was so focused on what was happening ahead of me that I didn’t reflect on how cold I was until I was out of the water.”
The officers involved say they learn a multitude of scenarios and how to respond to them in police college, but when it comes to jumping into Lake Ontario in freezing conditions, that’s a unique situation — especially for Const. Claxton, who is new to the force.
“When we were training at the police college, we knew that it was something that could happen some day, but to think that it was going to happen two months into my career was very shocking.”
The whole ordeal lasted mere minutes, with everyone making it to shore. The two men and the officer were taken to hospital for treatment. Pillman was able to meet with the male he helped rescue later at the hospital, who thanked him and his colleagues for their help.
“He said, ‘Sir, I’ll never forget your voice, you saved my life,'” he said.
Pillman says he hopes if anything can be taken from this, it’s to try and reach out for help and to remember officers do things like this everyday.
“People are doing this every day,” Pillman said.
“We have a lot of great officers, a great service and we’re here to help.”