A person on Bay Avenue called 911 on January 5 just before 4 p.m. to report two surfers in distress.
Harbormaster Michael DiMeo and Assistant Harbormaster Charles Matter arrived about ten minutes later and found the surfers, a man and woman from Falmouth, clinging to each other in the water about 200 yards off Green Harbor Beach.
The surfers appeared to have got caught up in the changing tides. One of their boards was lost in the water and the other had snapped in half.
The conditions were treacherous. A coastal flood advisory was in effect, the waves were 10 to 12-feet high and the winds were out of the north at 20 miles per hour.
“It was a little difficult at first to locate the surfers because of the waves that were breaking,” DiMeo told Boston 25 News in an interview Monday afternoon.
DiMeo was unable to safely get close enough to the surfers because of the rough seas. He had to rely on Matter to get a heaving line out to the surfers.
“I couldn’t leave the helm because I didn’t want to risk the boat getting blow sideways,” DiMeo said.
Matter reached the surfers in a single toss and pulled them on board the marine unit.
Both surfers were showing signs of hypothermia. The man also suffered a cut to his nose when his surfboard snapped in half and hit him in the face.
“We gave them first aid right away, got them into the cabin out of the elements and gave them blankets,” DiMeo said.
DiMeo noted the surfers were in great shape and did the right thing – stayed together and treaded water. He said they were wearing wetsuits, but the attire was no match for the elements.
“The water as 42 degrees,” DiMeo said. “You can have the equipment, but the equipment only lasts for so long.”
DiMeo said getting to the surfers and performing the rescue was only half the battle. He said getting everyone back to shore safely was even more difficult.
“We couldn’t even see the jetties, the jetties were washed over,” DiMeo said.
Relying on GPS, the eventually reached a pier where awaiting paramedics evaluated the surfers in the back of an ambulance.
DiMeo is a highly trained Coast Guard veteran and a current member of the Coast Guard Reserve. He credits his experience with the successful rescue.
“These are a lot of the skills I practiced and trained in the Coast Guard with, so obviously I take all those skill sets to my current job now and it makes Marshfield a better place,” DiMeo said.
DiMeo also credited Marshfield’s residents for supporting the town’s public safety departments and funding the equipment they had available to perform the rescue.
Two of the port’s security cameras and the marine unit’s three cameras captured the rescue, but DiMeo said the video doesn’t tell the whole story.
“The camera angle makes the waves look a little smaller,” DiMeo said. “You can see how small the boat looks coming in and the boat is actually 33′ long.”
Marshfield Police Chief Phillip Tavares recognized DiMeo and Matter during Monday’s virtual selectmen’s meeting.
“Commendations are for individuals who go above and beyond the call of duty to execute their jobs with professionalism and expertise,” Tavares said. “I felt they risked their lives and went above and beyond the usual scope of their duties.”
“There is without a doubt in my mind whatsoever that these two officers saved the lives of two people on that day,” Tavares added. “The conditions were absolutely treacherous and I don’t think the video shows the extent of how bad the conditions were.”
Selectman Chairman Michael Bradley read a citation the board had prepared for DiMeo and Matter. State Senator Patrick O’Connor also announced he had a citation for the pair on behalf of the state senate.
“Marshfield lucky to have Mike and his team,” O’Connor said. “He’s not just an unbelievable harbormaster in Marshfield, but he’s a leader in a whole group of harbormasters throughout the entire state. He’s a world class guy, Chuck the same.”
“I’m very thankful for them to recognize me,” DiMeo said. “It’s not needed, but it’s very thoughtful. I’m happy we were able to save two lives.”