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Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis recognizes Sarasota County lifeguards Scott Ruberg and Robert Martini as County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson looks on. Photo by Norman Schimmel.
Siesta Key Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 6 years ago

Island Beat: Siesta lifeguards earn recognition for public service

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

During the Nov. 15 County Commission meeting, Chairwoman Nora Patterson remarked on a letter she had received from Robert R. Maycan, a resident of Park Ridge, Ill., regarding Siesta lifeguard Robert Martini. In August, Martini came to the rescue of Maycan, Maycan’s wife and their 8-year-old grandson after they got caught in a rip current.

Maycan wrote in that letter, “We did not know of the dangerous rip current, although the lifeguard stations had the warning flags up … ”

When Maycan saw his wife and grandson drifting away from the beach, hanging onto a swim noodle, he swam out with a noodle to try to help, but he also became caught in the current. “All of a sudden,” Maycan wrote, “a face popped up in the water in front of me and (the man) gently asked, ‘Do you need some help?’ It was lifeguard Martini, who then brought us safely to shore.”

Maycan continued, “He did not criticize us for not heeding the warning flags, but just said, ‘That’s my job’ after we thanked him. I would just like to acknowledge the fine work he and other lifeguards do and am thankful, as all the tourists are, that they are there for our safety.”

Referring to the county’s lifeguards, Patterson told her fellow commissioners, “Obviously, this is their job, but (this rescue) was done in a particularly wonderful way.” She added, “I just want to make that public.”

Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis then told the commissioners that a Canadian tourist also recently had praised the county’s lifeguards. The woman tourist had left her wallet in the ladies’ room on a trip to Siesta Public Beach. Lifeguards had found it and secured it immediately. Lewis added that the commissioners would be hearing more at a later date.

That date was Dec. 7, when Lewis asked Martini and Scott Ruberg to come up to the front of the Commission Chambers during the commissioners’ meeting.

Lewis explained he had been making an effort to recognize some of the county’s 2,000 employees each month. “All of us work hard,” he said. “We try to make a difference … and I think it’s important that not only our community and our leaders but our fellow employees be reminded of the quality of people who work here.”

Lewis first related details about Martini’s rescue of the Maycan family members, then he talked about the incident with the lost wallet, which had a “considerable amount of money in it.”

Lewis added, “They had already duct-taped the money, the credit cards and everything together” before they located the woman. Ruberg said that the goal was to make sure the items in the wallet were secured.

Lewis continued his presentation, noting that Sarasota County employees take actions like that “every day of the week … every day of the year.” He told Ruberg and Martini, “It’s just a privilege for me to stand up here with you.”

When I spoke with Martini about the recognition, he talked first of the Maycan family. It was a red-flag day, he said, just as Maycan had mentioned in the letter. The swells were running 3 to 4 feet, he said — great for surfers but not for swimmers.

Martini was keeping an eye on the woman and her grandson, he said, so he realized it immediately when they lost their footing and started drifting. Watching the current, Martini said, he was able to judge when to swim out and catch them and Maycan, who had swum out and found himself also in jeopardy.

“Basically, I was kind of like a ‘merman,’” Martini said of his popping up beside the three people. Martini had taken his can buoy with him, so he gave it to Maycan, to assist in getting them all back to shore. A woman lifeguard on duty that day was watching to see if he needed any help, Martini added. He gave her the international diver/swimmer circle sign over his head to let her know all was well.

Once the family members were safe, Martini said, he suggested they not wade in any deeper than their waists the rest of the day. He also took the opportunity to explain how rip currents work.

Maycan tried to pay him, Martini said, but Martini politely declined the money and explained that he was just doing his job. The next day, Maycan returned to the beach and sought out Martini. Maycan had found three copies of the issue of the Pelican Press with an article about Martini written by my colleague, Rachel O’Hara. Maycan asked Martini to autograph the articles, which Martini was happy to do, in spite of the fact that Martini was surprised by the request.

What really made Martini happy was Maycan’s decision to contribute $150 to the Junior Lifeguard Program. O’Hara had pointed out in her article how dedicated Martini is to that county undertaking. “He was very generous,” Martini said of Maycan.

As for the wallet incident: Martini said lifeguards find and return property “all the time.” In this case, the woman went to the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau to tell her story and praise the lifeguards. “I really appreciate it,” Martini said.

By the way, Martini noted that Ruberg is his boss, “but he’s kind of a cool boss.”

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