Life-saving NOPD officer inspires training program to benefit hundreds

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A New Orleans police officer's admission that he couldn't swim after a recent water rescue may have opened the door for him and others to learn a skill that could save lives.

The officer has signed up for swim lessons, and a local oil company has pitched in to provide swim lessons to up to 200 first responders.

"I like just being in the water. It makes your skin feel good," said Treyshawn Hurley, who  is  defying the odds as the CDC says African Americans are six times less likely to know how to swim when compared to other races - a big problem in New Orleans.

"The incidence of drowning for kids of color is significantly higher than other kids, and it's because they have not been exposed to water," said Councilman Jay Banks.

"I always wanted to learn how to swim," said New Orleans police officer Brian Frank.

But a lack of swimming ability didn't stop from rescuing a woman who drove into a flooded Carrollton underpass during s heavy downpour three weeks ago.

"We still want them to get out there and protect and serve, but we don't want them to jeopardize their lives when they are doing this," said Banks

Now, with the help of the Helis Foundation, the Dryades Y is offering free swimming lessons to 200 New Orleans first responders.

"The call for action for this program is so imperative. It's something we felt we needed to immediately get involved in," said Jessie Haynes with Helis.

Right now, swimming ability is not a requirement for first responders in New Orleans, but in a city surrounded by water, many believe a program like this could go a long way toward saving lives.

"There are 350 square miles in New Orleans. Only 170 are land, so do the math," said New Orleans Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell. "We live in a city that floods all the time. If you get the training, it helps a lot."

Though officer Frank can't swim, he has made sure his kids can. The same goes for Stacey Hurley.

"I have avoided the pools and lakes for the summer because I wasn't taught when I was younger," she said.

Though her son, Treyshawn, swims like a fish, he's concerned about the majority of his friends who can't.

"I have a few friends who don't know how to swim, and I am worried about them. I don't want them to slip in the water and hurt themselves," he said.

While  first responder swim classes fill rapidly, many hope it will help spur others to learn a skill that could save lives.

"I wish I could start today. I have to work, but as soon as my first off day, I will be here," said Officer Frank.

And he expects dozens of his fellow officers to jump in.

Though there are many factors that contribute to disparities in swimming ability, advocates say with the current availability of pools and programs, there's no reason why every child shouldn't learn how to swim.

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