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Midway Fire and Rescue: Quick action earns Medal of Valor
By Jason Lesley
Midway firefighter Shane Kingsford went for a relaxing lunch with his girlfriend at a beachfront restaurant in Litchfield last September that was interrupted when two swimmers were caught in a rip current.
For his actions in helping save two lives, the retired Marine was presented the Midway Fire and Rescue Medal of Valor at the department’s annual awards banquet.
The day was a typical late summer day at the beach, Kingsford said, with plenty of people sunning on shore and a few swimming. Dressed in a casual shirt and shorts, he was looking forward to lunching on a day off at the Cabana Cafe.
Roofers on the fifth floor began shouting that two people were caught in a rip current more than 200 feet offshore. “I thought I had better go look,” Kingsford said.
He immediately called 911 and described the situation and the location. He knew from experience that the swimmers had only minutes before they would succumb to the rip tide. Kingsford and two other Midway firefighters, Lt. Pete Copeland and firefighter Pookie Matthews, were cited for rescuing six people from a rip tide off Pawleys Island in 2007 when a young girl was swept away and five swimmers tried to rescue her.
Kingsford and his fellow firefighters were in a rubber boat in 2007, the September incident at Litchfield Beach was more dangerous. “There’s no way one man can save two in a rip current,” he said. “It’s nearly an impossible task getting one and yourself back out. When you go into the water in a rip current, you are basically putting yourself as a victim.”
Kingsford and three Good Samaritans raced into the waves with him. “Now it’s a six-person rescue if things go bad,” he said.
The woman was nearest, so Kingsford swam toward her first, riding the current. He and a second rescuer with a boogie board reached the woman and secured her. “She was obviously exhausted, hanging on the board,” Kingsford said, “but breathing. I felt confident with that.”
Once he was sure she was safely on her way to shore, Kingsford turned against the tide and swam toward the man and two other rescuers. He saw that one of them had brought a boogie board too. “We swam out and got him on the board,” the firefighter said. “He was about done, exhausted. We had him draped over the board and the three of us paddled him in. It took us awhile, but he was communicating and had a good airway and was able to assist us.”
Midway paramedics were on the beach by the time the swimmers got to shore. They checked them out and, except for some saltwater in their lungs, the two people were fine. Kingsford gave credit to everyone involved, even the two people who were rescued for preserving themselves in a life-threatening situation.”They had an understanding of what they were trapped in,” he said, “and didn’t fight it.”
Midway Fire and Rescue Chief Doug Eggiman said emergency responders train continuously so they will be prepared for any situation. He quoted Abraham Lincoln at the presentation of the award: “I will prepare myself, and my time will come.”
He said entering the ocean without safety equipment was a display of bravery from Kingsford. “There was no time to wait,” he said. “He needed to take action. To me this was incredible.”
Kingsford doesn’t know the names of the victims or the three men who assisted. “It was a team thing,” he said. “I was merely a small part of it. Nobody had a duty to act, but all took part in the rescue attempt.”
Other Midway awards included:
Officer of the Year: Battaltion Chief Jeff Pifer.
Career Firefighter of the Year: Justin Lenker.
Tom Boyd Firefighter-Paramedic Award: Adam Maag
Meritorious Action Award for Extraordinary Acts: Daniel Weihert, Scott McGuire, Matt Smittle, Erik Noel.
Excellence in Training Award: Mark Mercer, Gerald Liberatore.
Mertorious Service Award: Ed Mills.
Community Services Award: Niki Crippen.
Fire and Life Safety Educator Award: Frank Seitz.
Support Services Division Member of the Year: Steve Kelsey.
Special Projects Award: Will Tayloe.
Excellence in Fitness Award: Joseph Anderson.
Most Improved Fitness Award: Howard Lutz.