By Thomas M. Cassidy
Recently I visited West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook with a friend who’s assigned to the Coast Guard base at Montauk. It was high tide and Long Island Sound was very calm as I pointed to Bridgeport on the Connecticut side and the smokestacks in Northport on the Long Island side. As we got closer to the shoreline, I was jolted back 50 years to a memory of a young boy who almost drowned on a perfect beach day.
I was sitting on a lifeguard chair watching a few bathers playing in the calm water at West Meadow Beach. All of a sudden a young girl ran toward me screaming that her brother was drowning. I immediately scanned the beach and focused on every bather in my area and pleaded with her to tell me where he was. She pointed toward her mother who was standing a hundred yards passed the lifeguard-protected beach and pointing toward the water. Then I saw a little boy on an inflatable toy raft and the offshore breeze pushing him further out in Long Island Sound.
I stood; blew my whistle and ran as fast as I could on the beach toward the raft. When I got closer, I dove in the water and swam as fast as I could, hoping and praying that the boy wouldn’t fall off the raft. When I reached the raft, the boy was still on it. I told him everything’s okay and I was going to bring him back to his mom. Two other lifeguards arrived seconds after me and we safely brought the boy back to the beach.
Before I went back to my lifeguard stand, the frightened mother thanked me for saving her son’s life. She said that her son was floating right in front of her as she stood in knee deep water. She was momentarily distracted as she checked on her daughter who was sitting on the shoreline. When she turned around, the toy raft had drifted out to sea and she couldn’t catch up to it. She told her son to stay calm and she sent her daughter to ask the lifeguards for help. She kept saying that it happened so fast and her son never made a sound.
Summer vacation is a great time for people of all ages to enjoy a refreshing dip in the pool, lake or Long Island Sound. Just be aware that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 10 drownings every day in the United States.
So stay alert when you, a friend or a family member is in the water and always swim at lifeguard-protected beaches and pools when possible. Sadly, this can be a life or death decision.
Thomas M. Cassidy is a resident of Setauket and author of several books including his latest, “Damage Control.”