Water rescue calls don't get much worse; an infant reported floating down a river, with no guardian in sight.
That's exactly what South Bend's Swift Water Rescue and Dive Teams were called to around 1 p.m. Monday.
Crews quickly canvassed the St. Joseph River between the E. Sample Street and E. Jefferson Boulevard Bridges, before determining it was all a false alarm.
According to an incident commander, South Bend’s 911-center received a call from a freight train engineer. The engineer had just traveled across a railroad trestle spanning the St. Joseph River when he reportedly saw what looked to be a young child in distress.
Nearly thirty police officers and firefighters rushed to the scene. They stood atop bridges, canvassed the water with binoculars and interviewed fisherman, but no child was found.
"One of our spotters, he was on top of the bridge, he thought he saw an animal in the water floating by. Our boat operators could not find the animal, but that's a very good possibility of what it could have been,” South Bend Fire Department Battalion Chief John Corthier said.
Corthier said the city of South Bend often sees an uptick in water rescue calls during warm summer months like July. He attributed the spike to more people being near waterways and water levels being lower. Of course when levels drop, more trash and sunken objects become visible and people's ever-creative minds start to wander, Corthier remarked with a laugh.
"Anytime you have an incident like this, this kind of outcome is the outcome you want. It's also good practice for us though. Whenever we get an opportunity to put our emergency rescue into effect, we get to make sure we have no problems with it,” Corthier added.
In the end, South Bend’s water rescue teams canvassed the St. Joseph River for 30 minutes before commanders called-off the search. In the time since, no one has reported a missing infant or child to authorities.
"The mindset is we want to get here, we want to get here safely. We want to get here in time to rescue whoever is in the water. Thankfully though, no one needed our help today,” Corthier concluded.
The South Bend Fire Department operates two water rescue boats within the city. One boat is housed at Station #1 along S. Michigan Street; the other is housed at Station #2 along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Although many water rescue calls require just one unit, both were utilized Monday because of the apparent severity of the call.