Easter was a beautiful day on the beach. It was sunny and warm with a light breeze with moderate surf. All the beaches were packed and the guards were busy moving them away from the rock groins and other dangerous areas.
A 31-year-old man and his 12-year-old son walked down to the beach on 35th Street. They waded into the cool water and went out to the first sandbar, which is about 20 yards from shore.
I heard a call on the radio from the lifeguard at 37th Street that there was a possible drowning. Two of our trucks beat me there during the five minutes it took me to reach the area. When I arrived, Beach Patrol Capt. Tony Pryor had assumed the role of “Incident Commander.” We had a Jet Ski team in the water and several guards were diving in the last seen point. A firefighter had assumed the role of “Safety Officer” and was keeping track of all the people assigned to the various roles, especially the ones in the water. Other firefighters were on the adjacent groins and scanning. Police officers were controlling access to the area and taking information from witnesses and family members. We called the Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network team to provide support for the family while we searched.
As I pulled up to the scene and started getting the details from Capt. Pryor, he spotted something that looked like a shirt in the water. I saw it as well and, upon closer inspection, you could tell it was a body. I ran into the water as Capt. Pryor called the Jet Ski team and waved to the swimmers in the area. We converged on it and the crew had the body on the back of the rescue sled and was starting CPR before they even hit the beach. The man was transferred to the back of the Beach Patrol truck as CPR was continued seamlessly. He was again transferred to the waiting EMS unit on the seawall and taken to John Sealy Emergency Room. Jesse Tree re-routed to John Sealy and provided support to the family as they were informed that the man could not be saved. They stayed with them for three full hours counseling, translating and just being there.
Back on the beach, the story that unfolded from witnesses was both heroic and unbearably tragic. The 12-year-old son watched his father slip under the water, but survived because a young man that was renting umbrellas in the area spotted him having trouble and rushed out to him, risking his own life so that this 12-year-old boy could live. The boy had barely remained afloat after he and his dad separated. The young man got to him just in time and was able to make the rescue.
Seven busy hours later, at the end of the day, the Jesse Tree crew met the affected guards at our office for a critical incident stress diffusion.