East Bay Regional Parks lifeguards are trained to protect people as they enjoy their summers at the beaches, swimming pools and lagoons throughout the region.
Once those recreation areas are closed for the day, no one expects those lifeguards to keep on working, especially when they’re not at the swimming areas they monitor.
But that’s exactly what AFSCME Local 2428 members Jack Davis and Adam Fishbaugh did on a recent evening this summer when they saw two people stranded in the estuary at an Oakland park.
The rescue of the couple was not only a sign of the two young men’s bravery and dedication to the lifeguard code. It’s another example of how AFSCME members never quit on their communities—even when they’re not technically on the job.
“It’s one of those things that just happened,” Davis said, reflecting on the rescue. “I guess it taught me to be more aware and that anything could happen at any time. You just need to be prepared.”
During the summer, Davis and Fishbaugh, both 18, work at Cull Canyon in Castro Valley. They also both happen to be good friends.
On a Saturday in July, at around 6pm, Davis was just getting off work and Fishbaugh offered to give him a ride home.
They were planning on taking the freeway for most of the trip. But traffic was starting to get jammed, so they got off in San Leandro and started taking a surface street near the Oakland International Airport.
They had just come around a bend when, out of the corner of their eyes, they noticed a man and a woman hanging on for dear life to what appeared to be a buoy about 250 feet offshore at the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline—a long stretch of water that, every now and then, gets a few boats and fishermen.
“We didn’t know what it was until we were even with them,” Davis said. “Then we just hit a U-turn and ran across the street to help them.”
As Davis and Fishbaugh recalled, their lifeguard instincts kicked in right away when they saw that the man and woman weren’t wearing lifejackets and were hanging on to the seat of a jet ski, which was sinking in the water.
Davis, who was still in his lifeguard shorts, ran toward the water first. There was a woman at the park who was talking on the phone to 9-1-1. Davis said he immediately got on the woman’s phone and told the emergency dispatcher that he was going in to save the couple, who, at this point, were beginning to drown.
Another Good Samaritan showed up, and Davis and the man swam out to the couple. They each took one side of the jet ski seat and swam to shore with the couple still hanging on.
Fishbaugh was right behind them, helping to get the couple to safety and working with the Fire Department, which had arrived shortly after.
“I was talking to the lady on the seat and trying to calm her down,” Fishbaugh said, recalling that he noticed she was going into shock. “My job was to get her on the rocks, pull them in and transfer them off to Oakland Fire.”
The entire rescue took about 5 minutes. But once everyone was safe, the couple thanked them for saving them and the firefighters on the scene called them heroes.
While the two young members take pride in saving someone’s life, they don’t see themselves as heroes.
As long as they know they have lifeguard training and have pride in wearing the lifeguard shield on their uniforms, Fishbaugh said, they have an obligation to help someone in need.
“It’s what we’re trained to do,” Davis said. “It’s second nature.”
What’s next for these two members?
Now that the school year has started again, they are both starting college. Davis is a student at Berkeley City College, and he is looking to go to Cal Maritime and eventually start a career in maritime transportation.
Fishbaugh is a student at Diablo Valley College and is currently majoring in economics. But rescuing the couple this summer has made him reconsider a career where he might just be crunching numbers.
“I’m actually planning on becoming an EMT or firefighter now, and then maybe I’ll join the Coast Guard,” he said.