Westport lifeguards to be honored as heroes
Last summer, two young lifeguards who never had to administer rescue breaths or CPR during all their summers of lifeguarding, had to do both when a man started to sink under the water at Burying Hill Beach. The Vietnam veteran's life was truly in the hands of Gordon Kempler and Cooper Whiteside, who were not yet of voting age. They had practiced for a moment like this so many times in the past, but practice often doesn't truly prepare one for reality.
"When it first happened, I was holding myself back," Kempler said, "but then I had to take a deep breath, a second where I had to realize, I can't panic."
Kempler and Whiteside were successful in sustaining life and for their efforts, they are being honored by the Connecticut Chapter of the American Red Cross at the Lower Fairfield County 2010 Heroes Breakfast March 25 at the Trumbull Marriott. The man's head, neck and feet were blue after he was pulled out of the water onto shore. He had a very weak pulse, and would actually lose his pulse, but Kempler and Whitestone provided the crucial aid that kept him alive prior to the arrival of a police officer.
Kempler, a 2008 graduate of Staples High School, said the man made a really miraculous recovery "because in my opinion, when I saw him on the beach, with EMS working on him, I didn't think he had a good chance of making it."
Unlike Compo Beach in the summer, where there are five lifeguards on duty and five on break all the time, Burying Hill Beach only has two lifeguards at all times. And when one goes on a break, that leaves only one watching the beach.
Whiteside was in the lifeguard chair when he heard a woman scream for help. Kempler was by the lifeguard shack that sits on the top of a hill. Whiteside got to the man first and Kempler called Compo Beach, telling his superiors to send an ambulance. He also grabbed an automated external defibrillator (AED), oxygen and medical kit before making his way down to the beach.
Whiteside said the man had a weak pulse but was not breathing, and so he administered a couple of rescue breaths to get air in his lungs. By this time, Kempler had arrived and the man was coughing up a good deal of water. Both lifeguards turned him over on his side to get all of the liquid out. He was subsequently put back on his back, and was found to have no pulse, which is why Kempler began administering CPR, and did so for about six minutes. Then an officer took over, performing more CPR before EMS got to the scene. Later, EMS personnel hooked the man up to an AED and intubated him. In the end, the man's life was saved.
Whiteside said it's a good feeling to know he played a vital role in saving someone's life. As far as the hero label, he's not sure how to take it. He just likes to help people, and he can do that with the two jobs he works. When he's not lifeguarding, he works full-time -- while taking college courses -- as the towing manager for Advanced Auto Repair in Danbury. Whiteside aspires to be a police officer and said his interactions with officers during his towing work has only strengthened his desire to want to serve and protect.
Kempler, meanwhile, loves the water, and is enrolled at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he's studying international maritime business.
"I was a swimmer growing up, since elementary school," Kempler said. "I'm a lifelong angler. I've been involved in sailing and surfing."
While Burying Hill Beach might seem like an easier beach to lifeguard than Compo Beach, Kempler pointed out that the fact there's only two lifeguards on duty requires that both lifeguards be competent enough to handle anything that happens.
Kempler said he's very honored to be recognized by the Connecticut Chapter of the American Red Cross.
"I'm happy that I was able to give back to Westport, and that I was able to give back to this guy, who was a Vietnam veteran."