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‘Everything was just happening so fast': First responder drowns, what needs to change?

Published: Aug. 26, 2020 at 9:13 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Tragedy struck on St. George Island on Tuesday.

On a day in which double-red flags flew, warning that beaches were closed, a father and his children were found drowning. That is when first responder, 56-year-old Brian Smith, saved them before he, ultimately, lost his own life.

This is the second drowning-related death on St. Georgia Island in less than a month.

“Everything was just happening so fast,” shared tourist Scotty Rider, “There was probably four people at a time trying to save him. It was terrible.”

Rider saw the scene unfold while sitting on his beach chair Monday. He states that the deputies and first responders saved the family, and while there were no other injuries, Rider pulled Smith’s body out of the surge.

Smith’s Chief at the Volunteer Fire Department knew he was gone.

Chief Kevin Delahanty described Smith as a, “Great man, a brother and a good friend.”

Delahanty couldn’t finish his sentence, being brought to tears. He says it is a pain unlike any other, and he is frustrated knowing that it could have been avoided, “To lose one of our own one of our own firefighters in trying to save a life, it’s unacceptable.”

Tuesday, as well as Wednesday, double red flags were posted, meaning that the beaches were closed to the public, and no one should enter the water. The problem is that those flags are nowhere to be seen across the shoreline.

Chief Delahanty explains, “We have flags at the head of the island but people don’t swim at the head of the islands, they swim at the end of these boardwalks. And you see the boardwalks up and down the beach. There are no red flags and no flag system.”

Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith hopes to change that. He wants to create more flags and make them visible all across the island. He also wants to have a penalty for those who violate the red warnings, “I am hoping that as a result of something terrible happening, that something good could come out of this and there won’t be any more loss of life.”

So those who save the day at a moment’s notice do not lose anyone else, including anymore of their own.

“This beach is not a bathtub,” shares Delahanty, “It is very dangerous out here when we have waves like this. They have to use their judgment, they have to use their brain.”

Delahanty tells WCTV that Smith entered the water with no flotation device or life vest, as he was the first one on scene. Sheriff Smith says while flotation devices were utilized by deputies and first responders who responded at a later point, they were not effective against the strong surge. Sheriff Smith hopes to give inflatable life preservers to deputies.

Sheriff Smith will be presenting his plan to have the current ordinance pertaining to the flags altered on Tuesday at the County Commission meeting.

Copyright 2020 WCTV. All rights reserved.

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