“Beach Patrol, car in the water 8 mile road bayside. Occupants possibly trapped inside”.
This call dropped a few years back. A call we dread, particularly at night. Supervisor/Officer Austin Kirwin, now our Lieutenant, happened to be near the radio and asked if the “on call” supervisor wanted assistance, which she wisely accepted. Water calls at night can be pretty scary no matter how well trained you are. Each of our year-round staff members has been there multiple times, and is quick to help each other out.
The 911 dispatcher followed protocol and dispatched the lifeguards first, then all the other emergency responders. In a water emergency it doesn’t make sense to have a police officer or paramedic arriving first and waiting a long time until a lifeguard gets there to enter the water. Life threatening events typically develop much faster in water than on land.
Once Beach Patrol was on the way the dispatcher called the rest of the “Galveston Marine Response” group which, for this call, included police, fire, EMS, and Jamaica Beach Fire Rescue. While on the way they all switched to the shared “Marine Response” channel and coordinated their resources. When the Fire Department arrived they set up lights and located the vehicle. Police blocked off the area and EMS staged for a potential medical emergency.
Austin arrived to find the car still floating after blasting off the end of the road. It was about 70 yards from the shore and a man in a white shirt was sitting cross legged on the roof. Austin grabbed his rescue board and a tube and got there quickly. Upon arrival he first asked if there was anyone else in the car. The man said there wasn’t. After a short conversation to assess the mental status of the man and a quick look inside the car, Austin was able to get him onto the rescue board and paddled him to safety, where he was checked out by EMS and Fire. He was later transported by EMS to the emergency room. The man didn’t remember how he ended up on top of the now barely floating car. Once he had completed the rescue, Austin went back out to the car to recheck for other victims.
The Police Dive team was assembling, and a police officer and lifeguard supervisor went with Jamaica Beach Fire Rescue in their boat to join Austin in checking the vehicle. They found nothing and towed the bobbing vehicle close enough for a wrecker to hook up to it. The headlights were still on as divers began double checking for victims.
As the island slept, the Galveston Marine Response worked seamlessly to rescue yet another person from a near catastrophe. Each of these groups operates on a tight budget, but they still find a way to make rescues like this happen. Austin didn’t have to respond to that call, but he and the men and women of each of the GMR participating agencies know that their efforts make a huge difference.