SANDWICH — Firefighters Tammy Pimentel and Dan Keane were on their way back from a routine day of training in the waters of Cape Cod Bay when they saw three teenagers on a paddle boat waving.
People often wave hello to firefighters, but this was no ordinary wave. The teens were frantic, trying to tell the firefighters that friends had drifted out to sea.
“We approached them, and they said their friends were too far out and couldn’t catch up to them,” Pimentel said. “They kept paddling, but they were going nowhere.”
On Thursday about 4:45 p.m., Pimentel and Keane helped rescue nine people in all from two plastic paddle boats and an inflatable raft that had drifted nearly 2 miles from Town Neck Beach, carried by a strong tide and winds.
Coast Guard officials said eight teenagers were floating in the small watercraft near the beach when the tide pushed them out beyond the recommended 200 feet. The mother of one of the teenagers, who was standing at the beach, swam to the raft in an attempt to pull it back to shore. But she could not and had to stay with it. Another mother on shore called 911.
The firefighters stayed with the paddle boats and raft and made sure all were safe as a Coast Guard boat arrived to pluck the people from the water. None was injured, but the outcome could have been much worse, rescuers said.
“We just happened to be out there, thankfully, at the right time,” Pimentel said.
Deputy Fire Chief Thomas A. Corriveau said that when there is a full staff, firefighters are sent out on their 21-foot rescue boat for training. This happened to be one of those days.
As a paramedic with the department, Pimentel does not spend much time at sea. In the 11 years she has been working at the Sandwich Fire Department, she had previously been involved in one water rescue — when a small whale was stranded on a beach.
No one in the group rescued Thursday was wearing a protective flotation device, Pimentel said. The situation was especially dangerous since the watercraft were not sturdy.
“To them, they probably thought they would have been fine, but I don’t think they would have been fine,” Pimentel said.
Bryan Swintek, the Coast Guard Command Center chief for Southeastern New England, said the mother who placed the 911 call did not want her name released because those involved were “pretty shaken up.”
Swintek said the group was given a “survivor debrief,” in which officers emphasized to the teens and their parents the importance of wearing flotation devices. He said they seem to understand that now.
Rescues such as the one on Thursday are all too common during the summer months, Corriveau said, because beachgoers are often unaware of how swiftly strong tides and winds can sweep them away. Although the waters seemed calm on Thursday afternoon, an afternoon wind and outgoing tide were deceptively strong.
The thing to take away from the rescue on Thursday, Corriveau said, is that beachgoers should come prepared with a floatation device, no matter how clear the day is and how calm the waters seem.
“Things can turn very ugly, very quickly,” Corriveau said. “The ocean is a beautiful and evil mistress.”