BRICK TOWNSHIP – Long-time Brick Township lifeguard Liam Rea, 19, said that he reacted before he could even mentally process what was going on after he and his brother Sean, 17 – who is also a Brick lifeguard – saved a young life while vacationing in Jamaica earlier this month.
“My training prepared me completely, it just kicked right in,” said Liam in a phone interview from his room at Stockton University, where he is a freshman.
Every year the Rea family, which includes dad Jim, mother Kim and youngest brother James, vacation outside the country with four other Brick families during Spring break.
This year the group chose Jamaica, and many took a day trip to nearby tourist attraction called Margaritaville that features a waterpark in the ocean.
Sean, a junior at Brick High School, will be a second-year Brick lifeguard this summer. He said he was near the top of an inflatable iceberg float at the waterpark and noticed that a man was going to jump off from a lower level, but instead, fell off since the float was slippery and rocking.
His older brother Liam was floating on a raft nearby, and he said he also watched as the man, “who seemed off-balance,” climbed up the float and fell off, landing on a kid who was at the base of the float and who was standing next to his father.
“I noticed and I dove in right away when the dad started yelling for help,” Liam said. “The kid was floating face-down so I flipped him over so he could breathe.”
By this time, Sean had jumped into the water and stabilized the victim’s neck. “It was obvious he got hit in the head. He was unconscious,” Sean said in a phone interview from his home.
The brothers were joined by one of their family friends, Jersey City firefighter Captain Jeff Batt, and their own father Jim, who swam the boy to shore.
Sean said he kept the victim’s face and neck out of the water to prevent him from swallowing water, and about halfway to shore, the victim, estimated to be about 13, regained consciousness.
“He was in shock and breathing heavy, but I was glad he woke up,” Sean said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
That’s true, said Liam.
“He regained full consciousness. He was shaken up, but I was happy that was talking to us and was able to tell us his name and the year,” he said.
“We were met halfway by two Jamaican lifeguards, and they said they would take it from there, but I told them we are lifeguards so they let us help,” said Liam, who will be a fourth-year lifeguard at Brick this summer.
The six worked together to strap the victim to a backboard and lift him about three feet over a concrete wall.
By this time, a large crowd had gathered and Liam said (per his lifeguard training in Brick) they established a perimeter to keep the victim from becoming overwhelmed, and stayed with him until the ambulance came.
They haven’t had any updates on the condition or identity of the victim, which Liam said he believes was also a tourist.
Long-time Brick Beach Captain Donovan Brown called to congratulate the brothers, which Sean said made him happy because “he’s the strictest and toughest guy I know.”
In a phone interview, Brown said the lifeguards did an excellent job.
“I tell them, after hours I would expect them to help somebody, but only if they have the proper equipment, like a float or a boogie board or surfboard, something to assist them in the ocean,” he said.
About two years ago, another Brick lifeguard, Brad Carrara, saved two children after hours who were struggling in the ocean off Camp Osborn, he said.
“A person drowning is a very scary situation. The person who is struggling could try to push (the rescuer) under the water, so it’s very important they have the equipment,” Brown said.
“I’m their boss, so I called them and congratulated them, they deserve it, they saved someone’s life,” he said. “I’m very proud of them.”