Fast-acting cadet saves man’s life at Dover Library

Cadet Thomas Rivera saved a choking man’s life on May 14 at the Dover Library. (Submitted photo/Dover Police Department)

Cadet Thomas Rivera saved a choking man’s life on May 14 at the Dover Library. (Submitted photo/Dover Police Department)

DOVER — Routine closing time turned dramatic in an instant.

Lifesaving Dover Police Department Cadet Thomas Rivera was watching patrons leave Dover Library Saturday night when he heard something unusual in the first floor men’s bathroom.

“It sounded like a cough, followed by an airless cough,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what it was, but it didn’t sound right.”

Hustling into the bathroom at just before 8 p.m., the 20-year-old was confronted with a senior citizen grabbing at his throat and unable to speak, his face had turned a bluish, purplish color.

Without fast action, the 74-year-old man likely had just a few moments left to live.

The arriving Cadet quickly moved behind the choking victim, latched hands at his belly button and made three to four successive thrusts upward.

Just like that, a piece of bagel was dislodged from the throat and a crisis of the worst kind — death — was averted.

“It was a decent amount, something like a golf ball sized piece stuck in his throat,” Cadet Rivera said.

Still unsteady, the victim “coughed some more and then caught his breath,” according to the Cadet.

“He said he was happy to be alive. He said he was extremely thankful and thought he was a goner.”

Stabilized, the man declined any further treatment or attention, and left the library in a vehicle.

The hero remained at the library, processing the situation.

“It took about 15 minutes to kick in and I thought ‘Wow, that just happened,’ ” he said.

With his work as a cadet and Little Creek volunteer firefighter, Cadet Rivera was up to the task.

“It was almost like an out-of-body experience,” he said. “It was a reaction based on my training from the Dover Police Department and Little Creek Volunteer Fire Company.

“I wasn’t really thinking at all.”

There’s no topping a lifesaving maneuver.

“It was definitely a good feeling that I gave him a few more years to live,” he said.

Recognizing the save

The next Dover Police Department awards ceremony should recognize the feat officially; already, the police department issued a news release chronicling the incident.

Chief Paul Bernat certainly appreciated the efforts.

“We are very proud to have such dedicated and proven cadets,” Chief Bernat said. “Cadet Rivera’s instincts and training kicked in and saved a man’s life. It doesn’t get much better than that.

“As the chief of police, I am very pleased with our cadet program and I think the citizens of Dover are as well.”

Currently in his third year studying criminal justice at Wilmington University, the 2013 Dover High graduate said police work has drawn him since he was a kid.

“It’s my dream to be a Dover officer,” he said.

His law enforcement career began with the newly formed cadet program designed to increase the city’s quality of life in and near the downtown area. Cadet Rivera and a partner typically patrol the area of Loockerman Street and Silver Lake Park 19 hours a week, mingling with business owners and occasionally responding to panhandling and open-alcohol-container issues. Cadets often assist in special duty operations during public events.

“It’s always been what I wanted to do ever since I was a kid,” he said of a law enforcement career.

The cadet program is structured for nine members who carry handcuffs, pepper spray, Tasers and radio. That force drops when a member leaves his or her position, until a replacement is found.

Cadet Rivera enjoys making connections with citizens in his hometown Dover, where he has lived since he was 4. He attended Holy Cross School, was a swim team captain at Dover High, played baseball and was a National Honor Society member.

“We’ve gotten to know a lot of (business) owners,” he said. “It started out as a professional relationship with them, but it’s become much more personal since then.”

The experience has been invaluable for a future law enforcement officer who already has shown tremendous poise under pressure.

“Every day I learn something new from all the great members of the Dover Police Department,” he said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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