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Vero lifeguard rescues man caught in surf in Palm Beach

Photo: Zach Weinstein, Vincent Valentino and Shaun Dibble outside the lifeguard stand at Humiston Beach.

It was just another day at the beach for several Vero Beach lifeguards who, on their day off, headed to West Palm Beach with plans to snorkel Blue Heron Bridge – a popular dive spot by the bridge that connects the mainland to Singer Island, where the water often is Key West clear. 

Fortunately, for one elderly beachgoer, things didn’t quite go as planned for the four Vero Beach friends.

“When we got down there, the water was murky,” said Vincent Valentino, a Vero Beach lifeguard lieutenant. “A local lifeguard suggested we check out the beach at Palm Beach Shores Resort until the water cleared up.”

They did, switching form snorkels to surf boards. After surfing for a while, Valentino headed up to the beach to get some water. Out of habit he scanned the beach while taking a break and noticed an older couple struggling to get out of the water.

“There was a pretty good shore break. It’s steep, and the sand is really soft,” Valentino said. “They were out about 8 feet. He would stand up, get hit by a wave and get knocked back down.”

Even with the assistance of Valentino and the woman, the man was unable to make it out of the water.

“He would take a step and then drop to his knees. We had him nearly onshore when he went completely limp.”

Up on the beach, Valentino tried to help the man back to his feet, “but there was no response.” After yelling for someone to call 911 and to get the lifeguards, Valentino began CPR.

Meanwhile, Valentino’s fellow off-duty lifeguard friends were in the water about 200 yards south of where the incident occurred.

“We’re never really off-duty. It’s ingrained in us to always be aware,” said Vero Beach lifeguard Shaun Dibble. “I was scanning the beach from the water when I saw Vincent dragging the man onto the beach. So, we headed in.”

When he arrived on the scene, Vincent was performing CPR with assistance from the man’s companion. The man’s pacemaker-defibrillator went off several times during the encounter. Later, they would find out that the victim had previously suffered several severe heart attacks.

The incident occurred midway between two lifeguard stands with umbrellas blocking much of the view, explained Dibble. The man had regained consciousness by the time the local lifeguards arrived, after noticing a crowd gathering.

“The fire department arrived about 10 minutes later. If Vincent hadn’t been there, this could have gone differently for the man. He probably wouldn’t have made it,” Dibble said.

Dibble attributes Valentino’s quick response and ability to take charge of the situation to the high level of training Vero Beach lifeguards receive under the supervision of Erik Toomsoo, assistant lifeguard captain and training officer.

“Vincent was a hero. Because of the methods Erik uses to drill us, we all came together and followed Vincent’s lead.”
It all worked out, said Dibble. “We were in the right place at the right time; and in the end, we actually had a really nice day.”