St. Paul fire captain rescues man from near-drowning while on vacation

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St. Paul Fire Captain Jamie Smith is being credited with saving a man’s life while on vacation in south Florida last week.

Smith grabbed a life jacket and swam out around 30 yards into the water to rescue a man who, at the time, was being pulled out by the current further and further into the water.

“By the time I reached him, he didn’t struggle at all, he went limp in my arms,” Smith said about the moment he reached the man in distress. “He was out of energy."

Smith, a firefighter/EMT, went to the Ft. Lauderdale area for a break in the warm sun.

"Things have been difficult for us at St. Paul Fire Department in the last few weeks, losing three of our members,” Smith said. “I thought it was the right time for me to go and catch a breather and some south Florida sunshine."

There was time for Smith to recharge on vacation, he said, but a flight issue delayed the return from Ft. Lauderdale for him and a female companion on their return leg back to St. Paul.

"A nice kayak ride seemed like a nice thing to do," Smith said.

Smith said they didn’t see anyone else out in the water while kayaking until they stopped at a sandbar to fix their boats—during that stop, they noticed the man struggling in the water last Thursday.

"I saw him going up and down in the water with his hands straight up in the air," Smith said. “Now that I think about it and what could have happened. Absolutely, I’m thankful I was there.”

Smith has saved many lives in St. Paul before in his time in the department, but this latest one is getting him some extra attention around the firehouse after it made headlines in South Florida and now the Twin Cities.

"The tradition in the fire service is, if you make the news, you have to buy the crew pie. I’ve got to find a bakery that gives me a discount; I’m on the hook for a few pies," Smith said.