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Local deputies named 'Top Cops' for saving child

BEMIDJI — George Brook, Jamie Scherf and Anthony Petrie did everything in their power to save the lives of three children on April 6, 2012.

But at the end of a chaotic period of about 30 minutes, as the Risland boys — Zach, 6, Jacob, 2, and Isaiah, 8 — were pulled from Clearwater Lake and loaded into an ambulance and a police car, Petrie feared for the worst.

"They were ice cold to the touch," said the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Deputy, in his sixth year with the force and twelfth behind a badge. "It didn’t look like anything good was going to come of it."

Something, however, did go well despite Zach and Jabob’s tragic deaths that day. Isaiah lived thanks to the efforts of Petrie and his fellow deputies, Brook and Scherf. The men were honored recently by the National Association of Police Organizations in Washington, D.C., as "Top Cops."

"I don’t think we really realized until we got there, and saw the amount of cops and what they were there for, that it sunk in how big of a deal it was," Petrie said. "We look at it as it’s just a part of our job, and that if we need to save somebody, we do it. But being National Police Week, you hear over and over and over again ‘Thank you.’ Anybody who knew you were a cop thanked you without even knowing what you did."

What the trio did on a frigid April day last year was save Isaiah’s life, even as their heroic attempt to save Zach and Jacob proved futile.

When the men arrived at Clearwater Lake that afternoon, the boys’ father, Dan Risland, was on shore. In the distance, the deputies could see Risland’s sons floating, strapped to their life jackets.

"All the deputies there have kids, and you look at it as if it’s your own children," Petrie, who organized the rescue effort, said.

As the boys floated, stranded in freezing water after the sailboat they had been on with their father capsized, Brook, Scherf and Petrie started scrambling.

"It was so early in the year that no one had their boats ready to go. No gas, no batteries. … We knew it was a bad situation," Petrie said. "We had people but no equipment."

That only lasted so long. Eventually, Scherf broke into a shed near the lake and found a 14-foot aluminum boat with paddles. The 34-year-old deputy began frantically rowing toward the boys.

"We just kind of borrowed their equipment temporarily," Petrie said.

A first responder jumped into the water to retrieve Jacob and swam toward the shoreline. Brook met the paramedic in the water, took Jacob, swam to shore and ran to a squad car. As another deputy sped to the hospital Brook performed CPR on young Jacob in the back seat.

At the same time, Scherf and a paramedic pulled Zach and Isaiah into the small, borrowed vessel, and took turns paddling and performing CPR. Other deputies and paramedics tried to resuscitate the pair as ambulances began to arrive.

"If it would have been even minutes later, the oldest child wouldn’t even have lived," Petrie said. "Their lifejackets tipped them up, like they’re supposed to, but it was so windy the waves were coming over their faces and they were taking in water."

Petrie regrets not being able to save the lives of Zach and Jacob, but is at peace with what he and his fellow deputies and emergency personnel did that day.

"Afterward, we looked for anything we could’ve had, is there anything we could do next time that could have saved two or all three? And we couldn’t come up with anything," Petrie said. "There was physically no way possible to get in the lake faster."

In the immediate aftermath and the 12 months that followed that day, Petrie and his fellow deputies have had time to decompress and come to terms.

"As absolutely terrible as this thing was, we felt real good about it afterwards because we did everything in our power. We saved one and that’s a positive," Petrie said. "If you sit back and look only at the losses, it’s too hard to do this job."


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