Jeff. Co Deputy hailed as best diver in the county, even saving colleagues

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) - When there's a water rescue in Jefferson County - Tom Ryan heads to the boats.

His colleagues call him the best diver in the area, even saving some of them on the job.

Diving into dark unknown waters is what the Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy is used to - some even say he's fearless.

"He is by far the best diver in Jefferson County,” Undersheriff Bob Chartier said. “He is mind over matter and when we submerge usually he's the one that goes out on the rope and we run patterns because he's 6’6” and he's got a wingspan of 7 feet."

It’s even more difficult because Deputy Ryan dives in black water where you can't see anything.

“You're identifying everything with your hands trying to say okay, what’s that? That's a rock. [Asking] what that is until you run into something and you think, okay that feels like a body."

During his 16 years as a diver, Ryan has recovered at least a half dozen bodies from the water.

“Every time I get in the water I'm aware of the dangers, you know equipment malfunction, something could happen, I could get trapped underwater,” Ryan said. “I mean I've heard of guys getting tangled in debris under water, in fact, that happened to my buddy, and I actually had to help him and that was quite an experience!"

That person he saved was Undersheriff Chartier.

“I tried to move and I couldn't, so I was stuck up against the boat in 30 foot of water,” Chartier explained. “I called Tom on our underwater communication and I said, “Hey I'm stuck, I'm stuck! The next thing I know I feel him climbing up my wet suit."

Deputy Ryan says he can’t imagine what Chartier went through during that time alone underwater, but is thankful he could be there for him when that happened. For him the job's been fulfilling, but as a family man, he says the best and worst part of the job is providing closure to families.

“[A family] came up to me and thanked me and said we are very thankful that you did that, we could have an open casket for the funeral and she looked really good,” Ryan said. “I was kind of speechless, I was kind of unprepared but it felt good that I could give them that, but at the same time I was heartbroken that they lost someone so dear to them."

Deputy Ryan’s one message for you: Wear your life jacket. He believes every single victim he recovered could be alive today if they had been wearing one.