Retired firefighter rescues teens in Long Island Sound

Long Island Sound in Greenport Monday afternoon, 24 hours after a rescue took place nearby. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
Long Island Sound in Greenport Monday afternoon, 24 hours after a rescue took place nearby. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Paul Hashagen was enjoying a lazy day watching golf at his Greenport vacation home Sunday when he heard a frantic knock at the door.

His neighbor had come to alert him that another neighbor’s teenage grandchildren had flipped from a kayak in Long Island Sound and were drifting away. 

Mr. Hashagen, 55, a retired FDNY firefighter from Rescue 1 in Manhattan, ran out to assess the scene.

“When I went out there, I saw a lot of people wanted to discuss what was going on and what to do,” he said. “In situations like this you don’t talk, you just go.”

Today, Mr. Hashagen is being called a hero for his efforts to bring the two cousins safely ashore.

Conor Rutigliano of Melville and Korie McManus of Stroudsburg, Pa., both 16, were visiting the Greenport home of their grandparents,  Bob and Nancy McManus, before 4 p.m. Sunday when they decided to take the kayaks out for the first time this season.

Korie was the first to flip into the chilly water and Conor followed soon after as he tried to get the water out of his cousin’s kayak.  A certified life guard and competitive swimmer, Conor said he felt safe in the water but, not fully understanding how far they were drifting, he wanted also to secure the boats.

Ms. McManus said the family immediately notified police of the emergency as they searched for a boater who might pass by to assist. As the wind picked up and continued to push the teens farther east and away from the shore, she feared it might take a helicopter to rescue them.

Then Mr. Hashagen sprang to action.

“I was worried about the time it would take [for someone else to get there] and the shape the kids would be in at that point,” he recalled Monday afternoon. “I didn’t want these kids getting swept away.”

Mr. Hashagen launched his own kayak and began paddling to the teens, who he said were merely “specks” from the shore by the time he reached them about a half-mile from where they launched. He tied their kayaks to his and the teens each held on as Mr. Hashagen safely paddled to shore.

“It wasn’t until Paul got out there and told us exactly where we were that we realized how far away we had actually gone,” Conor said.

Mr. Hashagen estimates the teens had drifted about a half-mile. While the concern wasn’t necessarily that they might drown, there was real concern over their body temperatures as they remained in the water.

Greenport Rescue rushed the teens to Eastern Long Island Hospital, where they were treated for minor hypothermia and released.

“You have no idea what that man did,” Ms. McManus said, overwhelmed by Mr. Hashagen’s efforts to rescue her two grandchildren. “To go out there like that at his age. He is just outstanding.”

It was a serious event, but still just another day at the office for Mr. Hashagen. Though he retired from FDNY in 2003, he still serves as a volunteer with the Freeport Fire Department, where he is a former chief, and he has written several firefighting books. When it comes to emergencies, his neighbors in both communities know to come to him.

“For everything from a tick bite on,” he joked.

In this instance, he understands his efforts were greatly appreciated. The two teens visited him Monday morning to thank him before he headed back to his home in Freeport.

“I’d definitely call him a hero,” Conor said. “He’s a great man.”

The two teens then left for Grandma’s house to continue warming up and to get some rest before heading home from the holiday weekend away. They did not return to the water Monday.

“The kayaks have been put away,” Ms. McManus said. “They’re not taking them out again this year.”

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