HANFORD — When Jonathan Rivera got back from a Southern California family vacation in September, it was back to business as a Hanford Police Department patrol officer.
He said nothing to colleagues about saving a girl's life next to a Best Western swimming pool in Orange.
If it hadn’t been for somebody from the Garden Grove Fire Department calling Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever to tell the tale, the story might never have seen the light of day.
The upshot is that Rivera, 34, was awarded a lifesaving medal this week by the Hanford Police Department — the first Hanford officer to have the medallion hung around his neck since the award was instituted seven years ago.
But that’s not really Rivera’s style.
His way is to keep the whole affair low-key, as if it were just another day in the off-duty life of a local officer.
“It just was what it was,” he said.
Rivera and his family were staying at the hotel on the night of Sept. 24 after a fun day at Disneyland.
His kids had gone to bed. Rivera was sitting by the pool fooling around with his smartphone and decompressing from the stresses of the day.
He noticed that a girl who looked to be about 18 appeared to be having difficulty in the water.
Next thing he knew, the girl’s mother had jumped in to help her out.
He watched as they got her out and sat her down on a chaise lounge. She seemed OK.
Then things started to go downhill.
The girl appeared to go into a seizure.
Rivera heard the mother yell for help. He saw that the girl was unresponsive.
Rivera jumped into action.
Amid a lot of yelling and screaming, he knelt down and felt her pulse. Nothing. He put his ear down next to her mouth. No breath.
The training kicked in.
Rivera eased her down onto the concrete and started doing chest compressions — the key part of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation that jolts the heart back to life.
CPR instructors teach students to time their compressions to the beat of the Bee Gees' 1977 hit “Stayin’ Alive,” so Rivera had the song in his head as he worked.
A woman rushed to Rivera’s side, offering to help. He assigned her to breath into the girl’s mouth. Thirty compressions. Two breaths. Repeat.
People had already called 911. Rivera knew he had to keep going until on-duty first responders arrived.
At least twice, the girl started breathing and coughed up water. Then she reverted back to not breathing, forcing Rivera to resume CPR.
It seemed like an eternity before paramedics showed up, but it was probably less than 10 minutes.
Rivera handed the girl over. Off she went in the ambulance. He never even got her name.
He stayed in Southern California the next day trying to find out who she was and what had happened to her.
Two days later, after returning home, he got a call from a paramedic who indicated that the girl was still alive, possibly in the hospital.
A few weeks later, Rivera tried to find out the girl’s fate, but was unable to find anything out.
Rivera knew he had done what he could.
“Even if she didn’t ultimately make it, the fact was that she was able to say goodbye to her family,” he said.
Rivera still does not know the girl's fate or her name.
Rivera said he didn’t tell the story to fellow cops in Hanford because he felt like he was just doing what he was supposed to do.
“I’m a dad, and I see it as, if my kid was having an issue, if there was somebody there who could help, they should help,” he said. “I’m not interested in tooting my own horn. What we should be doing for each other is helping each other when we can.”
“It’s just kind of typical,” said Sever. “They kind of do things all the time they don’t tell us about. We thought it was an exceptional act.”
When newly elected Hanford City Councilwoman Sue Sorensen heard the story, she was impressed.
“It’s comforting to know that public safety — police, fire — take the job seriously,” she said. “It’s not just when they’re on duty. It’s their life. The philosophy is, ’24 hours a day, wherever I am, I’m ready to serve.’”
As a dental hygienist with training that includes CPR, Sorensen can relate.
She has performed the Heimlich maneuver on a couple of grandkids who were choking.
Once, Sorensen jumped into a pool in February to pull out somebody who had fallen in. The boy was wide-eyed and holding his breath, but otherwise OK.
“You just throw everything aside and jump in,” she said. “I think it’s instinctual, especially when you’re trained. I don’t think they think twice.”
Rivera had done CPR on victims before, but it had always been in uniform, with the knowledge of exactly how long it would be before backup arrived.
In this case, it was just him with the woman doing the breaths and no certain knowledge of when first responders would arrive.
“I knew what I needed to do, but I was nervous as heck,” he said.
Rivera said he was happy to get the award.
He just didn’t go looking for it.
“I kind of look on it as, God put me in a position to help,” he said. “I do know, based on what the paramedics said, if I hadn’t acted, she definitely would have been dead.”