FRANKLIN COUNTY, Fla. (NEXSTAR) — A volunteer firefighter drowned Tuesday after trying to save two tourists struggling in the water off the coast of Florida’s St. George Island, according to Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
Brian Stephen Smith, a member of the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department, went into the Gulf of Mexico waters to save a man and a child but went under himself.
Sheriff A.J. “Tony” Smith confirmed the drowning in a Facebook video. He called the emergency workers “true heroes.”
“We’re all heartbroken about the loss of life today from a first responder who heeded the call to go rescue someone,” he said. “Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers, difficult time.”
Hurricane Laura moved through the Western Gulf, bringing dangerous rip currents and high seas. Double red flags flew on the beach, a signal to beach goers that the water was too treacherous to swim in.
“A lot of people were put at risk today because someone decided to go into the water when they shouldn’t have,” said Sheriff Smith. “Do not go into the water, stay out of the water.”
He said the police have asked the tourists repeatedly not to go into the water on double red flag days.
“Unbelievably there are still people in the water,” he said. “The surf was so rough even with flotation devices our deputies were having trouble even saving themselves. Conditions are terrible when there’s a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.”
The Sheriff warned anyone who disobeys the orders will be arrested and urged people to report illegal swimming to the Sheriff’s Office.
“There is no reason for any other loss of life,” said Sheriff Smith. “We don’t want anymore tragedies.”
St. George Island is a 22-mile barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Weather Service in Tallahassee said a “deadly rip current” risk remains through Thursday night for beaches in Franklin and Gulf counties.