Volunteer firefighter drowns, tried to save swimmers

August 27, 2020 GMT

ST. GEORGE ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — A volunteer firefighter drowned Tuesday after trying to save a man and child who were struggling in the rough waters off the Florida Panhandle, authorities said.

Brian Smith, 56, was a member of the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. He and several other first responders went into Gulf of Mexico waters to save the swimmers, but Smith was pulled under, according to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. The swimmers were returned safely to shore, but a deputy who assisted in the rescue was also hospitalized, officials said.


Double red flags had been flying on the beach Tuesday as Hurricane Laura strengthened hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the south in the Gulf of Mexico. Sheriff A.J. “Tony” Smith said in a Facebook video that no one should have been going in the water and that deputies were patrolling the beach and ordering people out of the water.

While the outer edges of the storm may have affected the waves off Florida, officials said they didn’t consider Brian Smith’s death hurricane-related. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Christy Thompson said double red flags can happen without hurricane winds, and Smith’s death was caused by people not following the flag warnings.

St. George Island is located about 70 miles (112 kilometres) southwest of Tallahassee.