Off-duty Sarasota lifeguard saves 9 swimmers, including family of 7, from rip current

An off-duty lifeguard in Sarasota is being lauded for rescuing nine swimmers in distress who were swept out by a rip current over the weekend.

Off-duty Sarasota County Fire Department Lifeguard Mariano Martinez stepped into action on Saturday afternoon when strong storms created dangerous conditions at Lido Beach. 

The storms swept in at around 5 p.m., and Martinez received a water rescue alert through the Pulse Point app, according to SCFD.

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"I heard in the transmission that two people were in distress," Martinez said.

Despite being off-duty, Martinez, a six-year veteran lifeguard for Sarasota County with 15 more years of experience of lifeguarding in his home country of Argentina, sprang into action.

Martinez said lifeguarding is his passion. He said he always keeps some rescue gear in his car, just in case of an emergency.

Mariano Martinez

"I always have my rescue stuff, wherever I am, in my car," he said.

He grabbed a rescue tube and swam out to a group of swimmers caught in a rip current over 200 yards away from shore. He arrived to find nine swimmers most in distress. Two had tried to rescue the others before Martinez had arrived. 

According to the fire department, Martinez secured one of the swimmers with a rescue tube. He got two others to shore before returning for the swimmer and then rescued the remaining swimmers through multiple trips using body boards.

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"Only one person was a good swimmer, and he could come back alone," he said.

Lifeguards said the water was calmer during the day on Saturday, but it became more dangerous after a storm came through.

"We didn’t have any really major rough surf leading up to this, throughout the course of the week, but we had a really nasty squall line blow through here about 5 o’clock on Saturday, and that outgoing wind just kind of creates those rip currents, and they don’t just go away," Lifeguard Division Chief Rick Hinkson said.

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Martinez said it was important that he stayed calm in the situation to help rescue each swimmer.

"You need to think quickly and make decisions," he said.

Six of the swimmers were evaluated, and one was treated and released at the scene by SCFD personnel, according to authorities.

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When speaking about the incident afterward, Martinez was at a loss for words. 

"I can’t explain the feeling," said Martinez. "You cannot explain when you are watching a person and his or her life is in your hands."

The Sarasota County Fire Department advised that rip currents are dangerous, and it's important for swimmers to always swim near a lifeguard and know their limits. If you get caught in a rip current, lifeguards say you should stay calm and swim parallel to the shore. You can swim back to shore once you’ve gotten free from the current.

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Hinkson says they’re grateful that Martinez was there when this alert came in.

"When he saw what was happening, he really had to think quick on his toes about assessing the patients, determining who needed to go first and, most importantly, telling them to remain calm," Hinkson said.

Martinez says in his 21 years of lifeguarding, this is a rescue he’ll remember.