Two police officers who regularly patrol the Loch Raven Reservoir were honored on May 29 for saving two young girls from drowning last summer.
Officers Heidi Greenleaf and Jerome Janos, members of the Environmental Police Division of Baltimore City's Department of Public Works, received lifesaving awards at a ceremony held at the reservoir from their division — the first time such an honor has been given, according to Luke Brackett, chief of the Environmental Police Division. The award, he said, is given only when a subject would have died without the direct intervention of the environmental police.
County Councilman Todd Huff of the 3rd District presented each of them with resolutions from the County Council, which praise their actions and say they exemplify "the words of Winston Churchill that, 'We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.'"
The division, formerly known as the Watershed Police, protect the watershed and reservoirs, including Loch Raven, Pretty Boy and Liberty. They work out of the Cockeysville Precinct.
Greenleaf and Jerome were on boat patrol June 29, 2013, when Greenleaf spotted something red floating in the water.
Because swimming is prohibited, and so is throwing objects in the water, she turned the boat toward the object.
"We realized it was a person in distress," she recalled. "A child."
In fact, as they drew closer, they realized two children were in danger of drowning in the reservoir.
As their boat neared the children, they disappeared below the water, Greenleaf said. She handed over the boat to Janos and rushed to the bow of the boat. She reached in and grabbed two girls, ages 2 and 12.
"I had one in each hand," she said.
She held the older girl at the side of the boat and passed the toddler to her partner.
The older girl was semi-conscious, Greenleaf said, adding, "The 2-year-old was visibly blue."
They rushed the children to shore where they were cared for by emergency medical staff. "Thankfully, they were fine," Greenleaf said.
She said they were playing on an island in the reservoir and the older girl got tired swimming back to the shore about 150 yards away with her little sister on her back. It was the toddler's red onesie that Greenleaf saw.
"The 12-year-old probably saved her sister's life," Greenleaf said, recalling her efforts to keep the little girl's head above water.
"It was a stroke of luck," she said. "I'm glad we were there."
Further information about the two girls, including their names, has not been released to protect their privacy, according to Brackett.
The experience was overwhelming, Greenleaf said. "At the time, your emotions are nonexistent," she said. "After the fact, you have this wide range of emotions ... you're happy to help ... they never should have been out there to begin with. You're frustrated. You're upset. You're mad," she said.
Greenleaf, 28, has been a member of the environmental police force since December 2012. A graduate of Towson University, she spent four years working for nonprofits when she decided she wanted to work as a police officer. She spent four years with the National Park Service in Acadia National Park in Main and Cape Cod National Seashore.
"I got very very lucky," she said.
Her partner, who was unavailable for comment, has been a member of the police force since 2010, after two years of service with the Baltimore Police Department. "He's the officer responsible for professionalizing boat patrols," Brackett said.
Greenleaf said the event should also serve as a reminder — as swimming season gets underway — that swimming is not permitted in Loch Raven Reservoir. Not only is the water the area's drinking water, but there are structures and other hazards underwater.
Boating is permitted, although gasoline engines are not.
"We try to keep everybody out of the water just to be safe," she said.