Bystanders assist water safety officer on Easter Sunday rescue

KAILUA-KONA — Good Samaritans abounded Easter Sunday as Ben Fisher, a water safety officer, was assisted by not one but several bystanders in an ocean rescue just off Spencer Beach Park in South Kohala.

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KAILUA-KONA — Good Samaritans abounded Easter Sunday as Ben Fisher, a water safety officer, was assisted by not one but several bystanders in an ocean rescue just off Spencer Beach Park in South Kohala.

Hawaii Fire Department Battalion Chief of Special Operations Gerald Kosaki said a man in his 60s, whose name was unavailable because of state privacy laws, was visiting the island from Salt Lake City, and suffered a cardiac episode while in the water.

“A couple was snorkeling for over an hour, maybe 500 yards offshore,” Fisher said. “The woman had already returned to shore … and shortly later bystanders by the pavilion started waving at me and yelling, ‘Lifeguard!’ I ran down to the water and there was a young man who had already made contact with (the distressed snorkeler) and was towing him in.”

Fisher swam out to take over the rescue, but was in for a shock — literally.

“As we were towing him in, I felt a big thump,” Fisher said. “It was his defibrillator activating itself, and I was shocked in the water by it. It was an electrical shock and when it happened, I thought he was having a massive heart attack. I thought he was coding and was going to need CPR.”

It turned out the Utah man was not suffering cardiac arrest, although he was struggling to breathe. Five bystanders helped Fisher carry the man up to the sidewalk area on the pavilion, navigating the rugged terrain next to the steps leading in and out of the water.

Absent their assistance, Fisher would have been forced to swim the man — who he estimated at weighing between 250 and 270 pounds — around to the shoreline, which would have taken several more minutes.

Off-duty Emergency Medical Services instructor James Gray was at the pavilion at the time and tended to the rescued man along with Fisher while yet another bystander summoned emergency responders.

Fire dispatch radioed an ambulance at Fire Station 14 — a radio call monitored by the newly implemented Rescue Water Craft team, SKI 2, which began patrols in July 2015.

“In any ocean event, SKI 2 can respond to assist people out of the water and can get in and out much faster (than traditional modes of rescue),” Kosaki said.

The SKI 2 team, Robin Fasciano and Liana Carson, responded in less than three minutes, relaying information to fire control in real time while waiting for the ambulance and adding to what was truly a group effort that ultimately ended in the saving of a man’s life.

Fisher was the only water safety officer on duty Sunday, even though Kosaki said there normally would be two lifeguards assigned to the beach on such a day.

Kosaki added that the Fire Department, which oversees water safety patrols, is already short-staffed when it comes to water safety officers — a problem compounded by a couple of lifeguards out on long-term leave.

On Sunday, however, several bystanders — all of whom remain unidentified because of an absence of names in official reports — stepped in to fill the crucial void.

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“It was one of the busiest days I’ve seen working at Spencer Beach Park,” Fisher said. “The guy was really lucky that all those people were there or he would have died in the water.”

Email Max Dible at mdible@westhawaiitoday.com.