Magazine article Corrections Today

Fred Bernhardt: Unselfishly Risked His Life for a Stranger

Magazine article Corrections Today

Fred Bernhardt: Unselfishly Risked His Life for a Stranger

Article excerpt

July 9, 2002, started out as a typical workday for senior correctional officer Fred Bernhardt of the Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility in Bordentown, N.J. Bernhardt took his inmate highway detail out to work for a few hours and then stopped with them to eat lunch at a scenic boat dock along the Delaware River. Unfortunately, the rest of the day was far from typical for Bernhardt, a 21-year veteran of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.


A young boy on a small water craft caught Bernhardt's attention. The boy was coming in too fast, ignoring the "no wake" zone. "He came in so fast that he hit the beach and flipped off the WaveRunner," Bernhardt recalls. "Everyone started running over and then we saw blood. The boy said, 'I think my father's dead. I think my father's dead.'"

The boy quickly relayed to Bernhardt what had happened. Apparently, the boy and his father were riding WaveRunners alongside each other, when suddenly, the father's craft veered in front of his son's, and the child unavoidably collided with his father. The collision left the man face down in the water. The boy had tried to get his father out of the water but was unable to. That is when he went for help.

Bernhardt, a former Trenton rescue squad member, was quick to act. After making sure that other officers could keep an eye on his detail, he ran over to a civilian boat, which he noticed was preparing to enter the water. He asked the owner if he would take him and the boy to get the man out of the water. With the boy leading them, they spotted the man floating. "By the time we got out there, it was probably five to eight minutes, and he had been in the water all that time," said Bernhardt.

The men pulled the boy's father out of the water and into the boat. Bernhardt saw that he was not breathing and immediately began performing CPR. …

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