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Sanibel crew pulls couple from water at Turner Beach

By Staff | Jul 3, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Sanibel Fire and Rescue District firefighter-paramedic Arian Moore, left, and firefighter-EMT Rob Wilkins, right, with the couple that they rescued from the water on June 28 at Turner Beach.

A couple visiting the islands recently had a close call after being swept up in a rip current.

At about 4:30 p.m. June 28, the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District received a call about possible distressed swimmers about 400 yards out from shore at Turner Beach. Division Chief of Training Tim Barrett reported that several agencies responded to the scene, but Sanibel was the first to arrive.

“We just got there quicker,” he said.

According to Barrett, firefighter-paramedic Arian Moore and firefighter-EMT Rob Wilkins spotted what appeared to be only one person out in the water through their binoculars, but they were uncertain. Moore grabbed a rescue surfboard and Wilkins grabbed a rescue tube and the two headed out there.

Upon arriving at what they thought was one victim, they realized it was two people.

“A guy was holding his wife’s head up in the water because she was unconscious,” he said. “She had foam coming out of her mouth and she wasn’t breathing at all.”

Moore put the woman on the board, while Wilkins secured the husband using the tube. They both began pushing the woman and board toward the shore, while Wilkins also pulled along the husband.

“These guys are good swimmers,” Barrett said. “Rob is actually a rescue swimmer.”

About halfway in, a rescue boat arrived and the woman was brought on board.

Moore climbed in and CPR was immediately begun.

“They did CPR for about a minute,” he said. “With every compression, there was a significant amount of water coming out of her mouth and nose.”

While it was going on, Wilkins continued to pulled the husband to shore and safety. Barrett reported that while he was OK, responders started breathing for the woman by the time they reached land.

She was loaded into an ambulance for transport to the hospital.

“On the way to the hospital, she started breathing on her own,” he said.

The Captiva Island Fire Control District also responded.

“We also had our boat in the water and had one member jump in to assist with the CPR,” Fire Chief Jeff Pawul said. “It was a great collaborative effort by all the agencies.”

Coincidentally, the Sanibel district had been training just that morning on water rescues.

“We train on a lot of situations like this,” Barrett said. “When the situation came up, they performed exactly like they were supposed it.”

He noted that calls to Turner Beach are not unusual.

“There’s a pretty nasty current that comes out of Blind Pass, so it can be tough to get across,” Barrett said. “It sounds like they were swimming and they got caught in the rip tide and away they went.”

He offered some tips for beach-goers.

Barrett explained that a rip tide is when the current comes in over a sandbar, but then pushes out through a straight channel. One can typically identify the channel because no waves will break there, however waves will break around it. Survey an area for rip currents before settling on a location.

“If you spot any, move down the beach,” he said.

For those who get caught in a rip tide, stay calm and do not fight it.

“You don’t want to fight the current yourself,” Barrett said. “If you swim against that strong of a current, it will wear you down and you’ll get tired and it’ll be hard to swim.”

Instead, swim parallel to the shore and slowly angle in toward it until you reach land.

“Don’t fight against it and try to come straight in,” he said of the rip current.

After hearing that the wife was recuperating, Moore and Wilkins stopped by the hospital for a visit.

“A lot of times we do these things, and it doesn’t have such a great outcome,” Barrett said. “So when it does, it’s really nice to kind of meet the people and the lives you’ve saved.”