Stories from Main Street: Rockaway FDNY Engine Trains for More than just Fires

WCBS 880 - August 08, 2019

In certain neighborhoods near water, such as the Rockaways, firefighters practice rescuing distressed swimmers, and it’s not uncommon to see a surfboard on a firetruck.

At Engine 265 - Ladder 121 in Rockaway, firefighters train and drill constantly to rescue people from the tides when lifeguards are off-duty.

“The ocean, it’s strong, you’re not gonna win,” said Lt. Danny Comer.

He tells WCBS 880’s Sean Adams that they respond to water rescues almost as frequently as fire rescues in their area of Queens.

“During the summer months, they do surf rescue to prepare for that. During the winter, it’s cold water related, whether it’s falling through ice, retrieving guys in the water, we train for it all,” he explains.

On the truck they carry rescue buoys, tow lines, fins, snorkels and wet suits.

“Most of time, probably almost every time, it's after six o'clock, the lifeguards in Rockaway go off at six,” Comer says of their rescues.

Firefighter James Hayden recounted one rescue he had to do when a teenager went swimming at night.

“It was 50 yards past the jetty, it was well, well past the jetty. The farthest I’ve ever swam to a victim,” he said.

The teenager was brought to safety, but he says that’s not always the case. He explains it’s a constant struggle to educate people about how dangerous the ocean can be.

Comer notes that if somebody finds themselves being pulled out to sea, the most important thing to do is stay calm.

“Let the rip take you out and once it stops pulling you out, then you have to swim parallel to shore. If you try to swim straight in, it’s not gonna happen, you know, you're gonna tire yourself out,” he explains.

Fire officials say recent drownings in the Rockaways highlight the perils of swimming after hours when lifeguards are off duty.

Comer also says the recent influx in tourists and residents adds to the challenges.

“Rockaway, it's just getting more and more crowded. The amount of people coming down to this beach in the past six years has probably quadrupled. The neighborhood itself, just the amount of people moving down here, it’s just gonna keep happening,” he says.

The best thing people can do? Never go into the water unless a lifeguard is on duty.