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Police diver's course earns award

ANNA LOREN
Last updated 05:00 07/08/2014
Constable Geoff Bray
Anna Loren
COMPASSIONATE CARE: Police diver Constable Geoff Bray says body recovery is all about showing respect for the victim’s family.

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What do you do when a hoped-for rescue turns into a tragedy?

Answering that question has won Constable Geoff Bray an international award.

Bray has helped to create the first Swiftwater Recovery Specialist training course, which teaches first responders how to retrieve a body from water with compassion.

It is a subject he is familiar with. Bray is a New Zealand police diver and about 90 per cent of his dives involve bringing a dead person back to their family.

"It tends to be very sombre work," he says.

"The actual diving is pretty straightforward - it's pretty easy to do. It's more about managing expectations and managing people.

"It's not just a body, it's somebody's dad or somebody's brother."

Bray, who is also a frontline police officer in Otahuhu, developed the course with Steve Glassey from Canterbury University's Centre for Risk, Resilience and Renewal.

They are the first New Zealanders to receive a Higgins and Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue.

About 3000 people were nominated for the award and Bray and Glassey travelled to New Jersey in the United States for the presentation.

While developing the course they watched hours of video footage and interviewed victims' families.

One of their case studies focused on a Hispanic man who had drowned in a river.

Communication between his family and the police divers was minimal and family members "fell to their knees wailing" when his body was brought into sight, Glassey says.

"Suddenly the police go into default mode, which is basically riot patrol, and the body's taken out and packaged up faster than Fed-Ex can."

Those who take the swiftwater recovery course are instead taught to let family members view their loved one's body and to let them carry it out of the water if they wish.

Maori elders might also want to say a prayer or blessing or to accompany the body to the morgue, Glassey says.

"This is about putting the family back in charge, putting them in control."

The course has now been adopted throughout New Zealand and in the United States and Canada.

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- Manukau Courier

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