If there’s anything Navigation Officer for Greenwood Lake Police Department Richard VanDermark is eager to share with others, it’s that his own life was saved because he was wearing a life jacket.
On a warm August day, he was tubing with his grandchildren on Greenwood Lake and his son-in-law was at the controls of his pontoon boat. As he was pushing his granddaughter up onto the deck of the boat after tubing, he slipped, hit his face on the deck, and fell back into the water.
“The next thing I remember was my son-in-law doing CPR on me,” he said. “When I woke up things were foggy but I do remember I could not breathe very well, [I was] making loud wheezing sounds and looking at my terrified grandchildren.”
After his near death experience, he looks at life a lot different, he said. There is a fine line between life and death and all the little things count.
When speaking to individuals that refuse to wear life jackets, VanDermark said he shares his personal experiences about pulling bodies out of the water. Those people would not have drowned had they been wearing life jackets.
He said he always wears his life jacket on and off duty to promote a positive image to other people. He strongly supports the Wear It! campaign and would like to see New York law changed so that everyone must wear life jackets, not just those under 12 years old.
“If I was not wearing my life jacket I would not be here today to share my experience with others,” he said.
Another memorable experience VanDermark had was when he was on patrol and came across a paddle boat containing two young children that were not wearing life jackets. Because they said they did not have any, he gave them two life jackets from the patrol boat.
Later on, he said a thunder and lightning storm arose and his mind went back to the children. After responding to their location, he found their boat sinking and them in the water. He was able to pull the children into his boat, hook up the paddle boat, and return to shore safely.
“If I did not give the children [life jackets] they would have certainly drowned,” he said. “Everything turned out okay. That was a good day.”