John McGrath Jr. and Aprile Dellaquila McGrath have Palm Coast Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Forte to thank for saving John from drowning early this afternoon.
Forte was driving through the W Section when he heard the emergency dispatch about a drowning situation at the McGraths’ home, at 29 Whispering Pine Drive. He was first at the scene, jumped in the pool to relieve Aprile, who had strained to keep her husband’s head above water, and pulled him out. McGrath, 71, was later taken to Florida Hospital Flagler.
It wasn’t just Forte: the response also involved relatively new recruits at the Palm Coast Fire Department, Flagler County’s own Fire Rescue paramedics—and Fire Chief Mike Beadle himself, who arrived about four minutes after Forte. Beadle compared his sense of pride at seeing rescuers do their job to that of a father seeing his children do well. “The training paid off, we had one guy with us two years, another guy who’s been there about a year,” he said. And of Forte, he said, “It’s refreshing to know even the guys who work in the office a lot of the time still have what it takes.”
Forte is routinely at emergency scenes, but his command style is unassuming, and he does not seek the limelight. “All in all thank God he was where he was when he was,” Beadle said of Forte. Beadle had grabbed a towel for him before getting to the scene. “When he said he was on his way to the call I had a feeling he was going to get wet.”
Aprile Dellaquila McGrath’s 911 call tells the story of the dramatic rescue.
She called 911 at 12:52 p.m. this afternoon. She told the operator that her husband had recently seen a neurologist and may be suffering from dementia, and that he was in the pool. When she first called she wasn’t sure he was in distress, but that soon became apparent as she told the operator that “he’s holding his head down under the water”
She tells the operator that she’s poking her husband with an object, then suddenly realizes: “He’s not responsive. Get somebody here.”
The 911 operator asks her if there’s any way she can get him out of the water. Aprile, 63, doesn’t immediately respond. She’s dropped the phone and has gone in the pool to try to pull her husband out of the water. She’s heard in the background, patting or slapping him, urging him on as she calls him by his nick-name, “come on, come on, Jack, come on.”
The 911 operator keeps trying to get her back on. “I can hear him in the background so I know he’s out of the water,” the operator says.
In fact, Jack is still in the water, though April is holding him up, trying to bring him out. Jack is heaving, gasping, louder and louder. Aprile urges him on, then starts yelling, “Jack stay here, stay, stay here.” She yells for help. She tells him to get out of the pool. Then she’s heard yelling, “No, no, no,” and screaming, “hurry.”
She must hear that someone has arrived at her door. “Break the door,” she yells out.
The 911 operator tells rescuers, “the female is in the backyard, she is unable to get out of the backyard, she’s holding the male above water, she’s advising to make forced entry.”
It was then that Forte arrived, with other rescuers arriving very soon after that. The 911 notes indicate a first-arrival time of 1:04 p.m. Flagler County Fire Rescue and Palm Coast Fire Department units responded also responded.
Forte got into the pool at the shallow end and walked toward Jack, intentionally not jumping in: that could have created more problems for the victim, Beadle noted.
A few minutes later, rescuers are heard saying that Jack is breathing, but that he was disoriented.
A rescue aided by being at the right place at the right time.
“Upon my arrival,” a Flagler County sheriff’s deputy reported, “the male was out of the pool and breathing, being worked on by rescue. The wife states he is suffering from and has been [delusional]. She also stated that his children are en route [from] Philadelphia in order to pick him up and take him back there for more stable treatment as his condition gets worse.”
The exact sequence of which units got to the house at what time was supposed to be documented by the computer assisted dispatching system (or CAD), but the CAD system crashed just as the incident developed. The time stamps on the CAD report are conflicting, in one case showing Forte and Beadle arriving at the house at the same time (which was not the case), and showing Palm Coast’s and Flagler County Fire Rescue’s units also arriving at the same time, though there was “a couple of minutes” difference: the Palm Coast Unit headed there from another call, so it was closer, Beadle said, while the Flagler unit had to get there from Station 21.