OCEAN CITY — Continuing a rash of recent near tragic incidents involving swimmers heading into the ocean after the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) has signed off for the day, two individuals were rescued by an Ocean City Fire Department rescue swimmer around 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at 16th Street.
Every summer there are incidents involving swimmers in distress in the ocean after the OCBP’s regular hours, but this season has seen a spike in the number of near tragic incidents including at least three this week. Last Friday, three distressed swimmers were rescued from the rough surf at 90th Street after being warned not to go back in the ocean and a similar situation unfolded the next night.
On Wednesday, a near tragedy struck again when a group of swimmers in the ocean at 16th Street became distressed and in danger and a 911 call was placed at 6:30 p.m., or an hour after the OCBP left the stands for the day. The Ocean City Fire Department responded and discovered a group of individuals struggling in the ocean. A trained rescue swimmer with the Fire Department, Mick Chester, then entered the water and pulled two individuals to safety.
The first victim was able to walk out of the ocean on his own power with assistance from Chester. The second swimmer was clearly in danger of drowning and was not able to help himself as Chester carried his limp body from the water. The second victim was treated at the scene briefly before being taken to Atlantic General. His condition or status was not known as of Thursday morning.
The Ocean City Fire Department rescue swimmer team was borne out of a near tragedy in late September 2008 when firefighters and paramedics responded to a report of swimmers in distress in the ocean at 37th Street around 2 a.m. Two firefighter/paramedics entered the water and pulled at least three victims out who were in danger of being swept out to sea. Two of the victims and one paramedic were taken to AGH, where they were ultimately treated and released.
From that near tragic incident, the Ocean City Fire Department decided to organize and train rescue swimmers and certified divers to handle similar situations.
“We always had good swimmers among our ranks and the need often came up, but they were never organized and a team wasn’t formalized,” said OCFD spokesman Ryan Whittington yesterday. “After that incident, the department decided to organize and train a rescue swimmer team under Lieutenant Del Baker. Now, we have rescue swimmers and certified divers at each of our four stations in Ocean City and on each shift.”
Today, there are 44 highly trained rescue swimmers and 15 certified divers under Baker’s direction in the fire department, all trained for situations such as Wednesday’s incident, which appear to be occurring with more frequency. The swimmers and divers work closely with other agencies to expand the blanket of protection for swimmers and boaters in both the ocean and the bays.
“They do strength and stamina testing, such as treading water for a certain amount of time and distance swims, but they also train with the beach patrol on things like safely removing an injured swimmer from the water and the Coast Guard on how to load a victim safely onto a rescue boat,” said Whittington. “They’re really prepared for just about anything.”
Whittington said the rescue swimmer team is just another example of the diversity of the fire department.
“Most of our people are cross-trained for a variety of responses,” he said. “They might respond to a fire in the afternoon, a heart attack victim in a store after that, and a swimmer in distress in the ocean in the evening. Most are trained for all types of situations.”