OCEAN CITY – Through dense fog and the black of night, Ocean City Paramedic Firefighters Delbert Baker and Derrick Simpson swam toward the screaming voices as fast as they could. What happened next was truly an act of heroism.
Baker and Simpson were honored by Mayor and Council Monday after rescuing three Canadian swimmers from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean late Sept. 28. Mayor Rick Meehan awarded the men with a proclamation deeming the rescue “heroic and beyond the call of duty.”
In the wee hours of that late September night, Baker said that he and Simpson were part of a team dispatched for a potential water rescue and had an idea that he might have to get in the water based on the amount of rescues that took place that day.
“The surf conditions were big that day and the beach patrol had already made a lot of rescues early in the day. As part of the dive team, we had our fins and snorkel and short-sleeve wetsuit and when we got to the scene, I quickly changed into the dive gear, grabbed my buoy and got in the water. Derrick [Simpson] was right behind me,” Baker said.
“We knew that there was one swimmer in the water, and as I got to him and tried to calm him down he said there were others in the water, but he wasn’t sure how many. As we looked around we could see hands waving further out and heard screams as the waves were crashing down around us,” he said.
Simpson and Baker proceeded to swim further into the dark ocean through dense fog.
“Derrick reached the second swimmer and got him attached to his buoy and I had the first swimmer on my buoy, and we heard a female voice another 30 yards out,” said Baker. “It was then that we had to decide whether to swim them in and go back out for the girl or to venture further and rescue her as well.”
With conditions delaying the arrival of the Coast Guard, the paramedics decided to swim the three victims to shore themselves.
“At no time did I think that we weren’t going to get them back to shore, but what we found out later was that the team that was on the shore were starting to think that they lost us as the screams and sounds from the rescue had stopped, when the reality of it was, they had stopped because we calmed the swimmers down and started to come in,” Baker said.
Paramedic firefighters have a 20-minute accountability time and as the rescue wore on past those 20 minutes, the team on the beach started to fear for the worst as Simpson and Baker weren’t visible or audible.
“We were out on a sandbar so we were just getting crushed by the waves,” said Simpson. “We had to be stern with the victims and help them to focus on the fact that they could help save themselves. So we kicked for awhile, and than swam as hard as we could, but the conditions were making us lose 30 feet every time we got another 20 feet, so it took awhile to get toward the light onshore.”
Simpson swallowed a bunch of water, injured his shoulder and was briefly hospitalized, while the three victims not only survived, but also admitted their “stupidity” in entering the water that night in a lengthy letter of gratitude to paramedics later.
“It’s amazing how many people don’t say thank you after you save their lives, said Simpson, “and though we certainly don’t do it for the gratitude, it’s certainly a nice feeling when someone says thanks.”