(Left to right) Sgt. Steven Shirley stands with Mimi Melegrito, president of the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca-Cayuga,Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner, and District Attorney Matt Van Houten. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

ITHACA, N.Y. — A Cornell University Police sergeant was awarded the Frank G. Hammer Officer of the Month award Monday afternoon in recognition of his lifesaving effort to help a drowning teenager.

Sgt. Steven Shirley was sitting poolside with his wife on July 18 during the second day of their vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. It was a typical summer scene with a lot kids playing in the hotel pool, Shirley said.

But then, he noticed something amiss.

“People who haven’t been exposed to someone who’s struggling in the water, who’s drowning, it doesn’t really look like what they show you on TV. There’s not a whole lot of splashing around. It’s more quiet. It’s very hard to notice unless you’re paying attention,” Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner said.

“It was hard to tell that he was in distress at first,” Shirley said, “…Right about the time I noticed that something was wrong, I got punched in the back and all I heard was my wife (Sue) sitting up. She punched me (and) says, ‘Get em Steve! Get em!’ It felt like I launched off the chair…it was fast.”

Shirley was able to get the teen out of the water and helped “clear his lungs” until paramedics arrived.

He said that since then, he’s thought more about what happened. He  initially thought anybody would have done what he did.

But over the course of several more days at the hotel, a few parents stopped to tell him that they didn’t know how to help during the drowning or they just froze when they saw what was happening. Shirley said he’s started to think that it’s probably more accurate to say that people who are trained and spend their days saving lives, like all the officers at the awards ceremony, would have done what he did.

“We all do have a skill. It’s in your matrix to act and there really isn’t anybody who can do what we do. I’m proud of all of you,” he said to his colleagues, including his partner Eric Stickle, who nominated Shirley for the award.

“As a friend, as a colleague, I couldn’t be prouder of him for those efforts,” Stickle said.

District Attorney Matt Van Houten congratulated Shirley, saying, “Clearly, I don’t want to steal any thunder, but he’s a hero. And when you’re a hero and you save someone’s life, that stays with you for the rest of your life.  Whatever this young man does for the rest of his life, he’s going to remember you and that’s really an incredible feat.”

Featured photo: (Left to right) Sgt. Steven Shirley stands with Mimi Melegrito, president of the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca-Cayuga,Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner, and District Attorney Matt Van Houten. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.