Police Officer David Gensemer grew up in Southern California, but was admittedly unprepared for what he encountered at the top of Park Avenue in the early morning hours of Dec. 22.
Runoff from a torrential downpour had turned the street into a roaring river clogged with the flotsam of tree limbs, boulders and a stuck Mercedes, its hood slowly being submerged as the water rose. Inside was a young man, looking dazed. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” recalled Gensemer this week.
Without any ropes or safety equipment, and knowing the fire department was preoccupied with rescues in Laguna Canyon, Gensemer waded into the knee deep water. He stumbled in the swift current, but reached the young man and pulled him from the car. Even together, the swift-flowing water nearly swept them away, but their combined mass helped steady the pair as they returned to surer ground.
“Any officer in our department would have done the same thing. I just happened to be the guy who showed up. It was dangerous, but we do a lot more dangerous things everyday,” said Gensemer, 27, who this week was selected as Orange County’s Top Cop by the Peace Officers Research Association for rescuing the driver of a disabled vehicle during the 100-year storm.
He will be honored June 10 at Angel Stadium during law enforcement appreciation day, according to Carrie Condon, an Anaheim homicide detective and president of the county’s chapter of PORC, a Sacramento-based police lobbying group.
Laguna Detective Larry Bammer nominated Gensemer for the award.
Gensemer generally works the overnight shift and started his career as an aide in the Los Alamitos police department. He grew up in Long Beach and attended high school in Bellflower.
“Walking in the flood waters was a calculated risk, but everyday I take more uncalculated risks,” said the officer, who was hired in 2006.
“When I walked into the water, I knew what could happen. I could get washed out. But compared to what we usually deal with ….,” he said, going on to describe answering calls by people trying to kill themselves, hang-up calls by homeowners facing burglars and car stops of drivers who turn out of be wanted for arrest.
“None of us look for that recognition. I think everyone who worked that night is deserving,” he said, noting that his own home in San Diego County suffered water damage while he was working. “It was a crazy night,” he admitted.