RED BANK: BOAT RESCUERS WIN PLAUDITS

altimari 081314Patrolwoman Kristin Altimari checks out her commendation for heroism. Also honored for roles in the rescue were public works employee Josh Schmidt, in yellow, and fire Chief Tommy Welsh, center, with Councilman Ed Zipprich and Mayor Pasquale Menna. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03Just four months into her career as a police officer, Red Bank Patrolwoman Kristin Altimari drew praise Wednesday for quick thinking and heroism for helping four young women adrift in a boat on the Swimming River Saturday night.

The 30-year-old former Ocean County high school teacher, who joined the police department in March, was the primary actor in a brief drama involving a quartet of swimsuited teenage girls who found themselves helpless in a one-oared rowboat in the darkness of the Swimming River.

The incident began with a report shortly after 9 p.m. of four teens in distress on the river. Shortly afterward, Altimari arrived at a rescue operation forming at the western end of West Sunset Avenue to find the mother of one of the girls talking to her daughter by cellphone.

The girls said they’d lost an oar when an oarlock broke and couldn’t control the boat. They also didn’t know where they were in the darkness, and couldn’t be seen from shore, because the Red Bank side of the river is a heavily wooded bluff and the view from the Middletown side is obscured by marsh growth.

Altimari had the girls call out from the darkness, and determining that they were below West Sunset, plunged into the thicket, and then the shallow river, guided only by her flashlight.

The uniformed officer found the girls “frightened,” but said they calmed down once she climbed aboard. Though she’d never rowed before, Altimari said she got the boat under control and arranged by phone to meet other rescuers along a flat at the foot of River Street, where she’d first gone in response to the call.

“I just used one oar,” she told redbankgreen, appearing a bit surprised at all the attention heaped on her by the Mayor Pasquale Menna and the borough council. “I had one of the girls hold my flashlight” to show the way through the darkness, she said.

The biggest challenge, she said, was “getting to them through the trees and marsh and, obviously, my concern about locating them.”

The council also honored fire Chief Tommy Welsh, who coordinated the rescue while racing from one point along the snaking river to another by car.

Welsh said he initially thought the incident was “no big deal,” but on later reflection realized that it illustrated “a pretty high level” of coordination involving police and volunteer firefighters.

In the end, it wasn’t a “serious” situation, added police Chief Darren McConnell, but it might just as easily have turned into a life-threatening one, he said.

The council also honored Josh Schmidt, a volunteer fireman who headed to the scene while on duty as a Department of Public Utilities employee to unlock a gate at the foot of River Street to expedite Altimari’s efforts.

The girls, who had launched the dinghy from Conover Lane in Middletown, were not identified. One of the mothers at the scene suggested that police should give them a ticket for the rescue effort they prompted.