Editorial: Training, teamwork and dedication saved lives

In less than an hour on July 6, the lives of two teenagers floating in Long Island Sound were saved by a heroic group of first responders who worked so well together — and in such a coordinated fashion — that the entire episode from start to finish sounds unbelievable. Or perhaps even miraculous.

At 5:10, a call landed at Southold police headquarters: a 23-foot Grady-White was disabled in the Sound some two to three miles north of Duck Pond Point in Cutchogue.

A disabled boat would be one thing, but there was more .  The 18-year-old who called 911 also said his two friends, both 16 years old, had jumped into the Sound to swim and were now drifting east in a rapidly falling tide. Neither  was wearing a life jacket.

And because the boat was disabled, the caller, Benjamin Grodski, could not rescue them. He needed help. Quickly. His friends were rapidly disappearing from sight.

And this is where the work of first responders — four highly trained members of the Cutchogue Fire Department’s water rescue team, a number of town police officers, a town harbor master, a Suffolk County rescue helicopter and the U.S. Coast Guard, all coordinated by two Southold police dispatchers — performed a series of amazing feats. Or maybe they were miracles.

Read our story about this water rescue in today’s newspaper and make up your own mind.

Roughly 20 minutes after the 911 call , the water rescue team members —  Capt. Joe Hinton, Lt. Christian Figurniak, Lt. Ken Pearsall and Lt. Bryan Zissel — were aboard the department’s Zodiac headed northeast from Duck Pond Point in search of the disabled Grady-White.

When they reached the boat — with the help of Southold police dispatchers, Michael Boken and Donna Lane, who were coordinating the operation — they found Benjamin and another 16-year-old aboard.  The two other teens were out of sight farther east – floating northeast on a swift tide in the wide expanse of the Sound. 

The four turned their Zodiac east and began the search.  

Some very important lessons can be drawn from this episode. First, there’s the element of good luck: Had the Sound not been very calm, had the water — which was 73 degrees— been colder or had night fallen before the teens were  found,   the outcome could have been far different.

The second lesson is more important: Having well trained personnel in all our departments across the North Fork is the difference between life and death. The four members of Cutchogue’s water rescue team are some of the most impressive first responders — and athletes — we’ve encountered in our years of telling the community’s stories.

We applaud everyone involved in this episode, particularly the two police dispatchers who brought all the pieces together, kept the lines of communication open and coordinated the rescue.

The work of the dispatchers, and the dedication and skill of the water rescue team, saved two teenage lives on a beautiful summer evening in Long Island Sound.