OSWEGO — Daniel Balloni dove into the freezing waters without thinking twice.
As soon as he saw a woman struggling in the Oswego River around 1 a.m. Sunday, the Port City police officer quickly dropped his duty belt, ballistic vest and anything heavy. He then entered the water, grabbed a life ring and held the 20-year-old up as they were dragged to safety by other officers.
Balloni’s swift actions certainly saved the woman from drowning, but for him, he was just doing his duty as a police officer.
“My body was reacting to what was going on before my mind caught up and realized ‘Oh my God, I’m going into this water,’” Balloni said.
It started as a routine night for Balloni on patrol when the 34 year-old heard the call for someone screaming, possibly from the east side of the river.
When the arriving officers thought it might be coming from the west side instead, Balloni reported quickly on the scene and talked with the original caller, whose wife was awoken by the screaming.
“It’s extremely tricky to judge sound there because it echoes back and forth, it makes it difficult to pinpoint,” said Balloni, who has been on the force in Oswego since 2015. “I heard that they thought it might be coming from the other side … so I went over there to see if I could help out, and see if something is going on that I could assist with.”
Within minutes, the officers on the scene used their flashlights to spot the woman in the water by West Linear Park.
“There was no time to communicate with that person — ‘Hey, are you OK?” Balloni said. “One of the officers grabbed a life ring … and threw it down to her, but she wasn’t responsive. … At that point, she was spinning and her mouth was going under the water.
“I knew somebody had to go in. There was no other option.”
Balloni, who trained as a lifeguard at the age of 16 and worked as a lifeguard through college, didn’t hesitate to enter the water. Balloni battled through the bone-chilling current to get to the woman, and kept her head above the surface while they were dragged down to a fold-down metal grate the fire department uses for its emergency dock.
“Once they got her safe on dry land, they dragged me out as well,” Balloni said. “It’s amazing. Only being in the water for around three minutes, I had no energy left. I didn’t have energy to help myself get out of the water. They were dragging me out just as helpless as she was.”
While OPD officers participate in water training, firefighters or the coast guard generally perform rescues on the river. Since the original call was just for a woman screaming — not necessarily for someone in the river — other emergency crews weren’t initially dispatched.
“It’s uncommon that police have to do any sort of water rescues beyond tossing a ring to somebody,” Balloni said. “But this was one of those rare situations where, just because the police happened to be there and responding, we beat the fire department to it.”
The 20-year-old woman was listed in stable condition on Sunday. Balloni had some numbness in his fingers, but that has gone away and he’s fully recovered.
Balloni said the response to his heroic actions has been overwhelming.
“I’ve been getting phone calls and people sending me messages constantly,” Balloni said. “It’s been a steady stream, even from some numbers I don’t know. It’s amazing how quick the word has spread.
“I feel like I was just out there doing my job, but everyone’s very excited about it and I appreciate a pat on the back.”