When lifeguard Billy Mingione saw a young boy’s head dip beneath the water at Island Park’s Masone Beach on July 18, he knew exactly what to do.
Standing on the beach’s pier, and keeping an eye on the group of elementary school summer campers below him, the 17-year-old South Merrick native watched as a strong current swept one of them into the pier’s posts.
The camp counselors and nearby lifeguards saw the boy struggling and urged him to reach for the pier’s ladder a few feet away. But when he pushed off to grab it, he sank. “That was the last I saw of him,” Mingione said.
He shoved past two counselors and jumped over the pier’s railing into the water. “It happened so fast, it was all over in a matter of seconds,” he said, recounting how there was no time to remove his clothing. “I got my hat off, but that was it.”
Mingione attempted to grab the child as he entered the water. He missed, kicking off a momentary frantic search. “I couldn’t see him,” he said. “That was the scariest part.” Scanning the water underneath the pier and seeing nothing, Mingione reached out, bear-hug style, in a last-ditch effort to reach the boy. He felt the child, pulled him to him and carried him onto the pier.
This summer is Mingione’s first at Masone and his third as a lifeguard, but this was his first career save. He recalled how shaken he felt afterward. “You make a rescue, and that’s awesome,” he said. “But there’s mixed emotions. You think of all the extra precautions you could have taken.”
But Mingione had his eye on the boy the entire time. He said that as part of his daily routine, he keeps tabs on the children that he notices are weaker swimmers, but he knows them only by their faces. “I don’t even know his name,” he said of the boy whose life he saved.
Two make another save
Mingione’s was the second of two rescues at Masone in eight days. On July 11 lifeguards T.J. Reichel and Steven Partland noticed a young girl, from the same group of campers, struggling as she attempted to swim in between the beach’s two floating docks. Her head disappeared underneath the surface, and Partland blew his whistle from the pier.
“He made the call,” Reichel, 19, Masone’s head lifeguard, said, and the two jumped into the water. Reichel, an Island Park resident, was posted at a nearby lifeguard tower and reached the girl first. “We realized right away how serious it was,” he said. “So much can go wrong in such a short period of time.
“At the time, nothing else mattered except getting her head above water,” he continued. He, did not know the girl’s name, but after the rescue, he ferried her to shore atop a flotation device to a group of applauding bystanders.
“It was a great feeling,” Reichel said, “… just knowing she was all right.”
Island Park Mayor Michael McGinty said the beach’s lifeguard crew is unrivaled, adding, “They bring their souls to work. They care, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of our staff.”
Beach manager Hope Ragan said she was proud to have the group of young men and women as her staff. “The lifeguards and employees of this beach are the heart and soul of what we do here,” she said. “Without them, none of this would be possible.”
Overhearing Ragan’s praise as he walked by, Reichel commented, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”