When Salt Creek breached its banks before dawn July 13, Indiana Conservation Officer Joe Tenbarge went to work.
Tenbarge, of Nashville, hopped an airboat manned by Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies to rescue six of his fellow Brown Countians from the back of a dump truck, where they’d sheltered from flood waters.
He spent much of the same night alongside volunteer firefighters and Brown County officers, searching for a man who’d been swept into the flooded creek off Hoover Road.
After being sent home for a change of clothes, he was back on the road again, heading to a statewide dive meeting out of the district.
“I’m a diver, so as far as water rescues and water recoveries, any time something local comes up, I usually go to it,” he told The Democrat last summer.
“I always knew that I wanted to help people when I could, and usually you deal with them in the worst times possible,” he said. “To go out and actually help somebody and get them to safety — it’s definitely a rewarding experience.”
To his fellow officers, Tenbarge’s love for the job is obvious.
They rewarded him by nominating him as District Six Conservation Officer of the Year, over all conservation officers in Hancock, Marion, Hendricks, Shelby, Johnson, Morgan, Bartholomew, Brown and Monroe counties.
Tenbarge also was named the district’s Boating Officer of the Year. When he’s not aiding officers and residents in Brown County, he can often be found patrolling Lake Monroe.
He reported 85 hours dedicated to boating enforcement above normal patrol, according to a press release from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division.
The department also noted that he volunteered to work numerous weekends that he had scheduled off, or extended his normal shift.
“Despite being a young, new officer, Officer Tenbarge has quickly earned the respect of his peers based on his work ethic, professionalism and demeanor,” the Indiana Conservation Officers reported in a press release.
Tenbarge, now 26, began his career in 2011, assigned to Brown County.
Indiana Conservation Officers are primarily responsible for enforcing natural resource, boating and off-road vehicle regulations, but also can investigate crimes of all types.
Among the achievements the IDNR mentioned was Tenbarge’s role in a criminal case in April at Brown County State Park.
Park staff had reported people littering at a cabin. Tenbarge’s three-day investigation alongside other officers turned up drugs, firearms, jewelry and credit cards. His work led to three arrests, helped solve a burglary in Morgan County and a shoplifting case in Nashville, and launched a probe into the use of stolen credit cards.
“Officer Tenbarge is extremely knowledgeable of all the laws and rules, is a sound investigator, has become a dependable resource in his community, and eagerly takes on additional tasks,” the IDNR said in a press release.
On the way home from a training day, Tenbarge responded to a call from Monroe County to help catch a suspect who fled from multiple police agencies. He launched a boat on Monroe Reservoir, spotted the suspect from the boat, and took him into custody, the IDNR reported.
He’s also made public appearances at schools, teaching water safety and putting on SCUBA demonstrations, and at fire departments to teach swift water safety.
With his two district award nominations, Tenbarge is now up for two statewide honors: Boating Officer of the Year or the James D. Pitzer Conservation Officer of the Year, among all 10 Indiana districts. He’ll learn the results in May.