ATLANTIC CITY — The city fire department is crediting a local man with helping to save a swimmer Thursday night who got stuck in a current far from the shore.
Around 8 p.m., firefighters responded to the beach at Caspian Avenue for the report of a man drowning and another man who went in to the water to help him, Fire Chief Scott Evans said. The beach was crowded with about 200 people there to watch the Fourth of July fireworks and lifeguards were no longer on duty.
Justin Freeman swam out into the waves to try to help the man, who was in his mid-40s and from Philadelphia, but not identified by fire officials.
“I live out there, so I know how that current gets,” Freeman, 34, Atlantic City, said. “I saw the guy and it looked like he was struggling.”
Heat, warm water and breaks in the sandbar all contribute to the risk for rip currents, according to the National Weather Service. Between 1998 and the end of September 2017, there were 47 rip current fatalities in the NWS Mount Holly’s coverage area, including Atlantic and Cape May counties.
However, the first time Freeman went to help, the man waved him off, telling Freeman he was fine, he said. Then Freeman saw the man’s son on the beach, who said his dad needed help.
“I grabbed the boogie board and swam out to the guy,” Freeman said. “And got him afloat and tried to get him to the jetty.”
By the time the pair got close to the jetty, the fire department had arrived at the beach. Others on the beach tried to help, tying beach towels together to form a rope to pull the two men in, Freeman said, while others watched and about 60 people recorded the incident on cell phones.
Evans said that the man was swimming about 75 yards from the beach and rescue swimmer and firefighter Richard Dicioccio and firefighter Patrick Cooke brought the man back on a rescue board.
“We got to give a lot of credit to (Freeman),” Evans said. “They guy might not be alive today if the bystander hadn’t kept him afloat with his boogie board until we could get there.”
The man was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, for treatment.
“It’s really just, know your limits. You have to pay attention to the water,” Freeman said. “To me, it was letting people know that there are still good people out here and hopefully people watching saw and they won’t hesitate to help people next time.”
The Coast Guard also responded.