Memphis officers awarded for life-saving river rescue on day off

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis Police officer says he was in the right place at the right time when he saved the life of a man who jumped off a downtown bridge into the river.

Memphis Police Harbor Patrolman Michael Duffee has been on the force 32 years. He’s assigned to patrol the mighty Mississippi, a job he said comes as second nature to him.

“I’ve been boating my whole life,” Duffee said. “I grew up on the Tennessee River.”

Last September, he and his partner were at a soccer game between the city and county at AutoZone Park. They were off the clock when they got a call.

Duffee said they got in a truck and rushed over to the Mud Island marina. He said they jumped in the closest boat.

The marina’s Memphis Yacht Club General Manager, Andy Anderson, said his memories of that Saturday remain vivid. His customers pointed to the pedestrian bridge above the Mud Island monorial. He saw a group surrounding a man on the outside rail, threatening to jump.

“We were hoping he wouldn’t jump,” Anderson said.

Duffee said they positioned their boat to keep a close eye on the man about 150 feet above.

“I saw that somebody gave him a cigarette,” Duffee said. “I went ahead and took my uniform off. I had this exact uniform on. Took my shirt off.”

Not 10 seconds after someone gave the man a cigarette, Duffee said the man jumped and hit the water.

Duffee dove in the water and turned him over, then brought him to the dock and pulled him up.

“He said he was hurting. I said that’s a good thing, because that means you’re alive,” Duffee said.

The man who jumped is alive. He didn’t want to talk to us, but people close to him say he was in a bad place that day. They say he’s still healing, physically and mentally, but they have faith he’s going to be okay.

Duffee and his partner, Michael Nelson, were recently awarded a lifesaving medal for their actions.

Duffee said he credits timing.

“Good thing that we were there and we were that close,” Duffee said. “Normally on a day off, it can be 45 minutes to get there. We just happened to be around the corner.”

Others credit courage.

“They’re fearless. That’s all you can say about that,” said Anderson. He said he’s witnessed Duffee save someone before.

That’s right. The lifesaving medal is his third.

Duffee said he thinks about that man he rescued and how he’s doing. But he doesn’t think twice about his actions that day.

“It’s what we are here for,” he said.

Several other Memphis officers also recently received lifesaving medals. Read their stories in the link.

Watch the Memphis Police awards ceremony for 2020 below.

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