Student-run search-and-rescue team honored by Coast Guard

For nearly 50 years, a group of college students has been responding to rescue calls on Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico. The group of college students now receiving a huge honor for the work they do year-round.

The Eckerd College Search and Rescue team -- the nation's only maritime aid program run almost exclusively by undergraduate students- - is being honored for the work they do year-round.

The volunteer co-eds work 24-hours a day to respond to distress calls and emergencies on the water.

"We definitely see tragedies on the water," said Eckerd College senior Roisin Burke. "We see loss of life, we see people whose days just really didn't go the way they wanted to, but we get to help them and make that better so even if the outcome isn't the best, we get to help families."

Currently, 48 team members give up their free time, even weekends, to be ready to respond and help.

"Last year we ran somewhere around 525 cases, so more than one per day, but obviously your summer months are going to be busier," explained Jordan Kuperberg, EX-SAR Assistant for Training and Operations.

LINK: Bay Area college students on standby for lifesaving water rescues

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The program was founded in the early '70s. The team is now being recognized by the Coast Guard for their assistance, dedication, and putting service to others first.

"It's a huge honor for me to be here today to present a Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award to Eckerd Search and Rescue," said Coast Guard Sector Commander Captain Matt Thompson.

It's one of the highest honors bestowed on civilians, and It's well-deserved.

"Recognition for just an amazing track record of the things that they do for the safety right here in the Tampa Bay area, it's pretty phenomenal," said Thompson.

Over the last decade, the EC-SAR team responded to more than 6,000 calls for help and assisted or saved 3,000 lives.

"We put a lot of work into this, and to be able to get recognized by an organization like the Coast Guard means so much to all of us," Burke said. "It really means that the work we're putting in is being recognized, and it's worthwhile, and we're helping people in the community."