OCEAN CITY – A Western Maryland man had high praise this week for an Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) surf rescue technician who pulled him from the ocean last Friday and literally “saved his life” after he was pounded by back-to-back large waves in the heavy surf.
Mike Simms, 46, is back home in New Market, Md. in Frederick County this week, a little banged up and still sore, but thankful to be alive after the rescue efforts of OCBP Surf Rescue Technician (SRT) Kelly McGrath and her colleagues last Friday afternoon in the area of 137th Street. Simms has three fractured ribs and a sprained neck, but he is happy to be alive after McGrath and the other OCBP members responded to the scene and intervened on his behalf.
“She’s a hero in my opinion,” said Simms of McGrath, whose name he still didn’t know this week. “I owe her my life. I really mean that. I would not be alive right now if it wasn’t for her.”
Simms, who said he was in good shape and a strong swimmer, was boogie-boarding around 1:30 p.m. last Friday afternoon when a big wave slammed into the shallow surf. He got up a “little woozy and barely conscious” when another wave drove him a second time. This time, Simms said he did not get up.
“It knocked me out and I was face down in the water,” he said this week. “She was right on me and pulled me out of the water. I would be dead right now if it weren’t for her. With this woman as a lifeguard, the public is definitely safe. She’s a great human being.”
Simms was stabilized on the beach with careful care not to exacerbate any potential neck or spinal cord injuries he may have received before being transported by OCBP ATV to a waiting ambulance. He was diagnosed with fractured ribs and a sprained neck at Atlantic General Hospital and later returned to his home in Western Maryland.
“I’m still a little sore and they tell me it might be couple of months before I’m completely healed, but I’m going to live,” he said.
A check of the day’s incident report revealed Simms’ initial guardian angel that day was McGrath, a first-year SRT with the beach patrol. Ironically, the incident wasn’t Simms’ first encounter with McGrath last week.
“A couple of days earlier, I was boogie-boarding in the same area and she whistled me in to tell me I was pushing down on the front of my board and that it was going to cause me problems if I kept doing it,” he said. “She told me to pull up on the front of the board to prevent me from getting dumped over.”
While McGrath was the first beach patrol SRT on the scene last Friday, she had a strong support cast during the incident, according to OCBP Captain Butch Arbin. Veteran SRT Jay Kleman was second on the scene and helped stabilize Simms’ lower body during the rescue. Another veteran SRT, Jason Lippman, also responded and was involved in the management of the spinal cord injury extrication, as was first-year SRT Artie Seaman. Finally, OCBP area supervisor Sergeant Mat Postell used his mobile rescue vehicle to transport Simms to the waiting ambulance.
While Arbin acknowledged the fast and effective work of McGrath as the first-responder, he pointed out the incident involved a group effort, just as similar rescues in the surf typically do.
“These types of incidents require a coordinated effort to prevent further injury,” he said. “This was one of several similar incidents from that day. I believe that had this happened on any other Ocean City beach, he would have received the same level of care. One aspect of this incident that is notable is that this victim saw all three parts of our mission: education, prevention and intervention.”