WPD officer’s quick action saves life

Sgt. Jay Sawyer of the Waterloo Police Department administered Narcan to an overdose victim last Tuesday in the 500 block of West Mill Street. (Sean McGowan photo)

When Waterloo police received the call about a possible opioid overdose last Tuesday afternoon, Sgt. Jay Sawyer let training be his guide.

“As I was driving to the scene, I was thinking through how to assemble the (Narcan) and administer it,” Sawyer told the Republic-Times. “It was just down the street so I didn’t have a lot of time to think. Basically, once I got on scene, the training kicked in.”

Officer Dale Siebenberger responded along with Sawyer to the overdose victim in the 500 block of West Mill Street while Monroe County EMS was out on other calls. Upon arrival, they found the victim unresponsive from a suspected heroin overdose.

Sawyer administered two doses of the Narcan nasal spray and helped revive the victim, who was then transported by Columbia EMS to a local hospital. Sawyer said he later went to the hospital to find the victim in stable condition.

“This guy is lucky we did have (Narcan) because with a 15-minute (ambulance) response time, he may not have made it if we didn’t,” Waterloo Police Chief Mike Douglas said.

Just one week before the incident, the WPD had purchased two doses of Narcan for each of its officers. The department was able to supply the Narcan thanks to a $1,000 donation from the Waterloo VFW.

“It was kind of like a perfect storm, so to speak,” Douglas said of the donation coming in right before the incident.

Studies show soldiers and veterans use opioid painkillers more frequently than civilians because their military training and combat lead to more injuries.

“We’re glad we can do it for the community,” Waterloo VFW Commander Rick Schilling said during a check presentation at the March 6 Waterloo City Council meeting.

The Waterloo Police Department and other local agencies received training in the fall on how and when to use Narcan.

“I have to commend my department for giving me the training and equipment to help the individual,” said Sawyer, who has been with the department since 1994.

Last week’s save isn’t the only time the stars have aligned for Sawyer in his career. He was also the first to revive someone years ago using an automated external defibrillator right after the department had received AEDs as a donation.

“It brought back that same feeling of, ‘we just saved someone,’” Sawyer said of last week’s incident, adding, “It’s always a good feeling when you can save someone.”

Sawyer’s use of Narcan follows a total of 12 uses — broken down as eight occasions involving Columbia police and EMS and four involving Monroe County EMS — in 2016. Columbia police began carrying Narcan at the beginning of 2016.

Meanwhile, Monroe County EMS has carried Narcan for more than 20 years and Columbia EMS has carried it for more than 10. Narcan is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose.

Numbers for 2016 show 55 overdose calls went out to Columbia EMS and Monroe County EMS. Of the overdoses in the county, three resulted in death, each of which showed the lacing of multiple drugs in the toxicology reports.

“It’s sad that we have to have (Narcan), but it’s good that we do and can have it because it’s somebody’s loved one,” Douglas explained.

In 2015, the state of Illinois passed the Heroin Crisis Act to ensure that law enforcement and first responders in both state and local government agencies carry opioid antidotes.

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