Off-duty Sarasota County lifeguard rescues seven people in Gulf of Mexico offshore of Lido Beach

This is the southern part of Lido Key Beach after it was renourished in the spring of 2021. Image courtesy of Michael Holderness

Martinez describes his actions and stresses need for everyone to remain calm in such a situation

Even when he is off-duty, Sarasota County Fire Department lifeguard Mariano Martinez says he keeps his rescue equipment with him, in whatever vehicle he is driving.

During the evening of Wednesday, June 22, that long-time practice — and, he acknowledged, his dedication to his work — led to his saving seven people who were caught in a rip current in the Gulf of Mexico off Lido Key Beach in Sarasota.

Speaking in a Sarasota County Emergency Services video released on June 26, Martinez explained that around 7 p.m. on June 22 — approximately a couple of hours after his shift on Lido Key Beach had ended — he received an alert on his phone about help needed for a water rescue at an address on Benjamin Franklin Drive. That is the street that runs parallel to Lido Beach.

Martinez added that the transmission said two people were in distress. However, when he arrived on the beach, he saw “a group of people” — nine altogether — in the Gulf of Mexico. It turned out that two of those were members of the public who had gone into the water to try to aid the other seven, who were fighting the effects of a rip current, Martinez pointed out.

“I jumped in the water with my … rescue tube,” he continued, “and I saw my first person in front of me, close to drowning. She was under the water.”

Martinez put the tube around her, he said, to keep her afloat.

Mariano Martinez. Image created from a Sarasota County video. News Leader image courtesy of Sarasota County

Then he spotted a mother and daughter nearby who also appeared to be struggling not to drown. He kept them floating with him, he added, trying to get them to relax. Thankfully, Martinez added, they spoke Spanish, as did the others who needed rescuing.

He is a native Spanish speaker himself, he noted.

Martinez assisted the others with the help of two bodyboards they had with them.

As it turned out, he added, only one person in the group was a strong swimmer; he was able to reach shore on his own.

After Martinez believed the situation had become “a little calm,” he continued, he brought the mother and daughter to shore and then helped the others reach the beach.

The group of swimmers in distress was about 200 to 250 yards offshore, Martinez pointed out.

Emphasizing that he was working to keep everybody calm while the rescue was underway, Martinez said, “The situation [was] very stressful.”

In his 21 years as a lifeguard — six of them in Sarasota County, he noted — this was the biggest rescue in which he ever had participated. (His first 15 years of experience in the profession were in Argentina, he pointed out.)

“I can’t explain the feeling,” he added, his eyes tearing up.

“You cannot explain when you are watching a person and his life is in hour hand.” He emphasized that he was dealing with seven people on his own that evening.

“You need to think quickly and take decisions,” Martinez added, “and sometimes the decision is not the perfect decision.”

This time, he said, “Everything was OK.”

He noted that the rip current that caught the people in the Gulf was not present when his shift ended at 5 p.m. that day. It appeared very soon after a big storm began on Lido following his shift, he indicated.

Martinez emphasized that people should not swim in the Gulf if no lifeguard is on duty, “especially here in Florida,” where big storms — particularly summer storms — happen frequently.

What makes the work so rewarding

A June 26 county news release said that six of the people Martinez rescued “were evaluated, and one was treated and released at the scene by Sarasota County Fire Department personnel.”

“It’s days like this that make the work we do so rewarding,” Sarasota County Fire Department Lifeguard Chief Rick Hinkson pointed out in the news release. “Working with someone as selfless and brave as Mariano makes it all that much better. He truly went above and beyond to save the family, and that is something to be commended. We’re proud to have him as a lifeguard here with us,” Hinkson added.

“Rip currents are dangerous,” the release pointed out. “It is important for swimmers to always swim near a lifeguard and know their limits. If there’s ever a doubt about whether they should enter the water, don’t take the risk,” the release stressed, advising people to remember the maxim, “If in doubt, don’t go out.”

If a person is caught in a rip current, the release explained, the person should remain calm, signal for help, and swim parallel to the shore until the individual is out of the current’s grip. Then the person should head diagonally toward the shoreline.

For Sarasota County beach conditions, the release continued, check

This is a portion of the report for Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Key the morning of June 24. Image courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

Further, the release noted, “Sarasota County Fire Department Lifeguards are on duty, in their stands, from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily on six beaches: Lido, Siesta, Nokomis, North Jetty, Venice and Manasota.”

Learn more about rip currents and rip current safety here.

Images courtesy of NOAA

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