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CO Training Academy: Week 4 - Aug. 5-10

Week four of Recruit School #9 included water safety – some of the most difficult testing recruits endure during the Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Recruit Academy.

Water safety instructors, Conservation Officers Jason King and Joseph Deppen addressed the class – “Bring your ’A-game’ – failure is not an option. In a drowning situation, seconds matter.”

The water safety program is broken down day by day. The program builds on what is learned the previous day.


Recruits woke at 5 a.m. to prepare for physical training, which consisted of a 1-mile warm-up run, followed by stations: kettlebell swings, incline pushups, the row machine, pullups, situps and weighted lunges.

After morning chow, recruits reported to the classroom where CO King and CO Deppen stressed the importance of remaining comfortable and calm in the water – particularly in times of stress and exhaustion. Conservation officers can expect to have to save a drowning victim or arrive on scene at a vessel crash.

“During a conservation officer’s career, it is not a matter of ’if’ you will have to make a water rescue, but it is a matter of “when.” The recruits need to stay calm and be confident in the water,” CO King said.

Day one reviewed water basics – water entry for varying situations, stroke technique and survival floats. Monday testing included shallow water assists, extracting victims from the water and various water scenarios – treading water wearing clothing and duty gear, recognizing the signs of a drowning victim and “passing the victim.”


Monday photo: Recruits practice pull-ups during morning physical training.


The day started with a 5-mile run to Davis Pond, recruits were unaware that they would return later in the week for lifesaving scenarios.

After learning and practicing additional water emergencies and procedures, recruits had to overcome their biggest obstacle, yet – the ice bath.

To complete the ice bath, recruits endure four minutes of being submerged to their chins in 34-degree (Fahrenheit) water. Recruits must demonstrate their ability to remain calm and maintain control of their breathing in a stressful, uncomfortable situation while undergoing physical and mental tests. Testing included finger dexterity, reciting the phonetic alphabet and answering conservation law questions. Physical and mental monitoring continued after the recruits exited the ice bath.

Many officers fall through the ice during their careers. Recruits learn critical skills and proper procedures to combat this emergency.


Tuesday photo: During the ice bath, recruits must demonstrate their ability to remain calm and maintain control of their breathing while undergoing physical and mental tests.


“Sink or swim” was the theme of the day. The morning task sounded simple but required mental dedication and resiliency.

Unable to watch the preceding individual, recruits took turns jumping into the tank dressed in full uniform. The task was to undress down to their swimsuit, retrieve their uniform from the bottom of the tank, then redress.  This exercise helped build their confidence for additional scenarios. 

Wednesday afternoon recruits revisited Davis Pond for lifesaving water scenarios.

The pond scenario involved a recruit contacting an angler on a kayak. The recruit asked the angler to paddle ashore to check their license, safety equipment and any fish the angler had. While returning to land, the angler’s kayak tipped and they began drowning. Recruits had to first try and save the victim utilizing on-land rescue methods. When unsuccessful, the fully uniformed recruit had to utilize their water entry skills to rescue the victim. The victim had become unresponsive by the time they were brought to land, where recruits demonstrated their knowledge to resuscitate the angler.


Wednesday photo 1: A recruit retrieves his uniform from the bottom of the tank.

Wednesday photo 2: Recruits perform water rescues in Davis Pond.


Waiting in isolation, the fully uniformed recruits took turns entering the doors to the tank deck. Recruits entered the scene to a drowning victim and an environment in full commotion, including emergency alarms, water distractions and more. Recruits had to undress and complete water obstacles to approach the active drowning victim. Once securing the victim and returning through water obstacles, recruits had to exit the victim from the water and then recite the appropriate breathing resuscitation. Total physical and mental exhaustion was reached and showed the recruits their personal limitations while performing a water rescue. After completing the task, recruits were escorted to the locker room by a team member to recover from the scenario.

Michigan conservation officers are never more than one mile away from water (lakes, rivers and streams) and are expected to respond to any type of water incident. The public and department expect CO’s to be physically capable and remain calm to manage a situation. CO’s need to act without hesitation, executing the appropriate response.

Thursday photo 1: A recruit swims underneath an active drowning victim to find a way to secure the victim from behind.

Thursday photo 2: A recruit pulls a victim out of the water.


DNR Academy staff along with Michigan State Police troopers Austin Hessling and Brent Matsumoto taught recruits the skills to respond to submerged vehicles. After a practice scenario wearing googles, recruits completed the full rescue wearing blacked-out googles, which hindered any ability for the recruit to see. The goal was to prepare recruits for water rescues in poor visibility.


Friday photo 1: Recruits learn the skills to respond to a submerged vehicle incident with victims inside.

Friday photo 2: Without being able to see, a recruit performs a water scenario rescue for a submerged vehicle victim.


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