ASSATEAGUE — Three lifeguards were honored last weekend with the highest honor bestowed by the American Red Cross for their valiant efforts to save two individuals who ultimately perished after getting caught in dangerous rip currents on the barrier island in October.
Unseasonably warm air temperatures and an inviting ocean in early October proved to be dangerous combination in Ocean City and at Assateague Island on a particularly tragic day on Oct. 7 when two people ultimately died after being rescued from the surf on the barrier island. The tragic endings for the two victims came only after the heroic efforts to save them by a trio of lifeguards in the Assateague Island State Park at a time of the year when the beaches are not still guarded regularly.
For their heroic actions in the face of adversity, the three Assateague Island State Park lifeguards — Sheldon Dawson, Chloe Goddard and Alison Smith — received the American Red Cross Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders in a special ceremony on the barrier island. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the Red Cross to individuals or groups of individuals who save or sustain a life using skills learned in a Red Cross training services course.
“We’re extremely proud to present a Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders to this trio of heroes,” said American Red Cross Delmarva Chapter Executive Director Theresa Young, who presented the awards during the ceremony last Saturday on behalf of the American Red Cross Board of Governors. “Their actions exemplify our mission to help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.”
Dawson of Salisbury was the captain and beach manager that fateful day on Oct. 7, while Goddard of Snow Hill was a lifeguard and Smith of Berlin was the lieutenant lifeguard. The trio was covering the public beaches at Assateague State Park at a time when the island’s crews were no longer manning stands and their numbers were greatly diminished.
With sunny skies and temperatures topping out in the 80s throughout that first week in October, the beach and ocean remained inviting for many visitors still in and around the resort area. The combination of summerlike conditions and dangerous rip currents had the skeleton crew at Assateague on high alert. A similar situation unfolded in Ocean City on the same day with dozens of rescues made by a combination of Ocean City Beach Patrol guards still on duty along with the town’s emergency services.
Around 2 p.m., a 57-year-old Virginia man was swimming in the ocean at Assateague State Park in the area of the Campground Loop I when he was caught in a dangerous rip current. According to reports, a surfer in the area attempted to intervene to assist the victim. Goddard and Smith entered the water and found the victim and the surfer clinging to a surfboard. Smith signaled to Dawson to bring emergency oxygen and resuscitation equipment. The unresponsive victim was brought to shore where a visiting emergency room doctor started CPR. Park Ranger Stephanie Venarchick applied an AED to the victim before he was transported to Atlantic General Hospital where he was ultimately pronounced deceased.
Around 6 p.m. the same day, an 18-year-old Pennsylvania man was swimming in the ocean with a friend at Assateague State Park in the area of Campground Loop F when he was caught in a rip current. The friend reportedly lost sight of the victim and called for help. Dawson, Goddard and Smith arrived on the scene and entered the water with rescue apparatus in hand and located the victim’s submerged head.
Dawson and Smith paddled to the victim and were able to bring him to shore. CPR was started immediately and an open airway was briefly established. Venarchick arrived on scene and initiated the AED process while Smith and Goddard gave breath to the victim, who was ultimately transported to AGH by EMS and was later pronounced deceased.
Dawson, Goddard and Smith were all trained in basic life support, CPR, AED and other skills by Sertified LLC, a company that has trained many others in the same techniques that serve as lifeguards and first-responders in the area. Sertified co-founder and head instructor Owen Long nominated Dawson, Goddard and Smith for the American Red Cross awards for their heroic actions on Oct. 7 and had high praise for the trio.
“Some people are naturally-born lifeguards and first-responders,” he said. “These three people are just that. No one is more deserving of such an award.”
Sertified takes a modern approach to American Red Cross first-responder training and prepares trainees in CPR, first aid, AED, basic life support, lifeguarding, emergency medical response, remote and wilderness first aid and even babysitting. The American Red Cross has asked Long to increase the training for lifeguards and first-responders all across Delmarva.