Napeague, NY -- When 17-year-old Jean Carlos Barrientos heard screams coming from the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday afternoon, he sprang into action.
Admittedly scared, Barrientos remembered the training he had received in East Hampton's junior lifeguard: He told his friend to call 911 and he grabbed two flotation devices that were handy near the on Napeague, where he works as a cabana boy, and headed for the water.
There are no lifeguards stationed at the hotels along Napeague, where beach-goers swim at their own risk. Lifeguards and ocean rescuers say this near-drowning is another example of why a lifeguard station on the eight-mile stretch of ocean beach is necessary. There is no town lifeguards between in Amagansett and in Montauk (Hither Hills State Park is protected).
A device that's supposed to inflate when it hits the water, failed, so Barrientos quickly ditched it, carrying instead a red torpedo as he swam through the choppy water toward the drowning man, who he thinks got caught up in a rip current.
The victim, a 34-year-old from Brooklyn, was unconscious when Barrientos reached him. The rescuer locked the man in a chest-hold and carried him back to the sandbar, where he was met by Driftwood's superintendent Perry Halburd, who helped him get the man the rest of the way to shore.
Barrientos said the man wasn't breathing. He had no pulse. His eyes were rolled back and he was purple.
"I thought he was dead for sure," Barrientos said.
Halburd started chest compressions until East Hampton Town police arrived. Advanced emergency medical technician Randy Hoffman, a volunteer in the , arrived at about the same time in First Responder's vehicle. also arrived on scene.
The man still had no pulse and Hoffman, who carries a manual EKG/defibrillator, "bagged" the man to breath for him. The man started breathing on his own in the ambulance on the way to Southampton Hospital, even answering questions.
"This guy was really, really lucky," Hoffman said. The man was discharged on Monday.
John Ryan Sr., chairman of the East Hampton water safety committee, said the man is alive — and breathing on his own as of Thursday — because all the right things happened. The immediate call for help got advance emergency medical service there fast, and deployed the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad, and the initial CPR got the victim's heart started, which helps prevent brain damage, Ryan said.
"Even though I knew what to do, it was still scary for me," Barrientos, an junior said. "If I hadn't taken those classes, I would have been blank."
Barrientos surfs and is an athlete — he plays soccer and track at the high school. But, when he was 14, he passed the lifeguard test, despite being too young to receive the certificate.
Ryan had been after Barrientos to take the CPR class. After the save, Barrientos decided it was time and attended Tuesday's lifeguard, CPR class. He was met with a standing ovation, Ryan said.
A son of Emma and Julio Barrientos, JC, as he is known to friends, was also recognized at the Athletic Awards banquet on Wednesday for the heroic save, though he said the gravity of the situation still hasn't sunk in. "It still hasn't hit me yet. One of these days it will."
Ryan said that while Barrientos is a hero, a much bigger problem has been brought to the forefront and highlight the need for a protected town beach in Napeague.
He believes the resorts along Napeague need to implement certain water rescue procedures, such as making sure beach attendants have cellphones, first aid kits and flexible rescue tubes, like a Peterson Belt, accessible. "Remember the easiest part of any swimming rescue is getting to the victim – the hardest part is keeping them afloat. Don’t become another victim," he wrote in a four-point plan.