On Friday, which was a warm, sunny day, First Selectman Fred Camillo invited press to join him on the Island Beach Ferry to present certificates of special recognition to three lifeguards: Michael Dorrian, Sean Kieran and Mitchell Grimes. All three are Greenwich natives who graduated Greenwich High School.
The lifeguards joked that Mr. Dorrian, a member of the GHS class of 1994, was the most patriotic lifeguard in Greenwich.
“Around 5:30pm I sing, ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag.’ It’s a little off key, but it’s patriotic and it’s worth the trip,” Dorrian said to reporters who hadn’t been to Island Beach before.
And though he joked about his singing ability, his professionalism as a lifeguard was never in doubt.
Back on July 19, a swimmer nearly drowned but for the efforts of Dorrian with assistance from Sean Kieran and Mitch Grimes.
Mr. Dorrian, who has been a lifeguard in Greenwich for 20 years, said his summer gig works out well because he works in a Catholic school in New Jersey teaching American history, economics and sociology during the school year.
“I’m a teacher-beacher,” he joked.
But on July 19, Dorrian spotted a swimmer floating on his back floating toward the pier in front of the area lifeguards refer to as the big beach. (They call the other side of the boardwalk “the small beach”).
“We saw the distress, and that’s when we reacted – and it wasn’t the first time we’ve seen it. There’s a danger zone, at high tide, between the buoy and the pier, with the current going that way,” he said pointing toward the pier. “That’s the most dangerous part of Island Beach. If you’ve been here long enough, that’s why the action happens. One year a guy just fell asleep on his back and floated in. We picked him up.”
Dorrian said that in the moment of the rescue on July 19, his training kicked in. “We’ve trained that run before. It was nothing new,” he said. “But the current was very strong that day.”
First Selectman Camillo said he received a letter from the wife of the gentleman who was rescued saying her husband had been standing in the water chatting with another beach-goer when he lost his balance, flipped onto his back and was unable to upright himself.
Initially the man appeared to be floating, but he was actually struggling as the strong current pulled him under the pier and slammed him against the pillars.
His wife said in her letter to Mr. Camillo that she was was deeply grateful to the lifeguards.
“Because of their alertness as to what was going on in the water that day, a near drowning was avoided,” she wrote.
“Thank God for the diligent observation and quick action of lifeguard Michael Dorrian, who had been watching the waters that day, and realized my husband was not just floating. He was struggling and was indeed in trouble,” she said. “In a matter of seconds he and lifeguard Sean Kieran rushed into action. They seemed to come from out of nowhere, rushing into the water and pulling my husband out of the water to safety.”
“Frightened, battered, bruised and bleeding, they got him back onto the sand,” she added.
A third lifeguard, Mitchell Grimes, who was at the first aid station when Dorrian first spotted the gentleman in distress, was also praised for offering support and comfort during the frightening situation.
After getting the gentleman to safety on the beach, the lifeguards checked the gentleman’s vitals and tended to his wounds, cleaning and bandaging them.
“They did this all with such caring professionalism,” she said.
Mr. Dorrian said the man he rescued was in good spirits after the rescue. “My dad was a firefighter. His son is a firefighter. We had that in common. It was like meeting an old friend,” he said.
“The devil’s in the details and it always happens in a nanosecond,” Dorrian continued, adding that he was honored by the First Selectman’s recognition.
“The lifeguards who saved the life said you all kept an eye on him to make sure he was okay,” Camillo said. “That really impressed him. It shows you their dedication, and how much they love their job, their town and fellow human beings.”
Camillo said the recognition is important because he hoped it would show that being a lifeguard is not a glamorous job.
“Maybe by this story getting out there will give exposure to the job they do,” Camillo said. “It’s very serious. Water is the most powerful force in the world. Maybe people will make a mental note of it.”