Atlantic City Firefighter Sven Peltonen spent almost 24 hours wondering what he could have done differently.
After working to try to revive a swimmer pulled unconscious from the ocean off South Carolina Avenue at about 7 p.m Monday, he was told she had died. Then, at about 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, a reporter called to tell him the 59-year-old New Hampshire woman had survived.
The woman, whose name is not being released, is in the Intensive Care Unit at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center's City Campus, Sgt. Monica McMenamin said. Her exact condition has not been released.
The condition of the city's Fire Department and Beach Patrol is disbelief.
"We're overwhelmed with joy," said Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise, a day after releasing the information that the woman had died.
He and McMenamin had been working to find the drowning victim's name only to find out she hadn't drowned.
"The people who were there said the woman was as dead as anyone they'd ever seen," Aluise said. "When I told them she was alive, they were in shock. The fact that she made it is just remarkable. I would say a miracle and just a wonderful outcome."
"It was a total cooperative effort," Peltonen said.
On Monday night, Station 1 tried to understand the tragedy as a team. On Tuesday, the firefighters tried to grasp the news that the woman survived.
Rescue workers were called to the scene at about 7 p.m. Monday for a woman in the water at South Carolina Avenue, where lifeguards go off duty at 6 p.m.
After-hours guards on personal watercraft and others who were at Kentucky Avenue where the beach is open until 8 p.m., were dispatched.
The woman was found facedown in the water.
When firefighters arrived, the lifeguards were just bringing her in, Peltonen said.
"I grabbed her and dragged to the hard sand and just started working on her," he recalled.
A police officer, who McMenamin identified as Kevin Skeeters, took care of ventilation. And Rescue One provided medical supplies, including oxygen.
Peltonen, whose brother is a lifeguard in Hawaii, recalled the deep-water rescues he's seen there. He tried to think of the deep compressions they do to get the water out.
He continued working on her all the way up the beach until handing the work over to emergency medical technicians.
"He never gave up. He was unrelenting," said James Leonard Jr., who was passing the area when the rescue was going on. "After she was placed in the ambulance, you could see the ambulance going up and down, and it was clear that they were still trying to save her."
Then, Peltonen was told that she hadn't survived.
He called his brother asking what their guards do there that wasn't done here. After returning from the beach Monday night, the firefighters talked about what else could have been done.
By the time they returned to duty at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, they learned the efforts had paid off.
Peltonen, a 23-year Brigantine Beach Patrol veteran and paddleboat champion, was just finishing his shift on the beach before heading to Station 1 in Atlantic City when he got the news Tuesday. At the firehouse, he was still in disbelief.
He said he'd been told the woman went into the water to rescue a young family member who was in trouble. The child got back to the beach, he said.
Peltonen insisted it was a team effort, and said that if it weren't for the personal watercraft, the woman never would have been pulled out in time.
"That's why we have the Jet Skis online all the time," Aluise said. Two lifeguards and two Jet Ski operators. You can cover a lot of ground with that."
Peltonen, 37, said he almost drowned in a pool during training when he was in college.
"So it's kind of close to me, water rescue," he said. "I was going over that experience with everybody last night. To imagine what this woman went through, what was going through her mind."
Fire Chief Dennis Brooks said he was proud of the work his firefighters did.
"I'm proud," he said. "They did a great job."
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