OSWEGO – At the Oswego City Fire Department’s eastside station today (May 10), State Senator Patty Ritchie presented Oswego City Firefighter Sean O’Gorman, whom she described as a ‘Guardian Angel,’ with the Senate Liberty Award for his efforts to rescue two teenage girls from a rip current in the Atlantic Ocean.
The New York State Senate Liberty Award is one of the highest civilian honors that a New Yorker can receive.
Similar to the national Congressional Gold Medal, the award is presented to individuals who have merited special commendation for exceptional, heroic, or humanitarian acts and achievements on behalf of their fellow New Yorkers.
“So I can think of no one better recipient than Sean O’Gorman,” Ritchie said.
“Thank you very much,” O’Gorman replied as he accepted the medal
“Assemblyman (Will) Barclay sends his regrets. He was unable to be here today. But he echoes everything the senator has said and sends his congratulations as well,” County Legislator Terry Wilbur said.
Resolutions recognizing O’Gorman’s heroism are being presented in the Assembly and Senate.
“I was so impressed when I heard the story. The fact that you were able to act so quickly,” the senator told O’Gorman. “The part that really struck me was when the father was going out, you stepped in and said let you go in his place.”
Last Month, O’Gorman was visiting Emerald Isle, North Carolina, with his family.
While spending time on the beach, he heard calls for help and noticed two young girls in the ocean, struggling to get back to shore on their boogie boards. At one point, a third girl went to try to help the girls get back, and then she, too, became stuck.
O’Gorman immediately went into first responder mode.
As the girls’ mother called 9-1-1, he asked their father to stay back and started swimming out the girls.
After a tough swim (it was easier going out than coming back, O’Gorman quipped), he reached them, instructed them to hold on to his feet and swam them back to safety. They were quite calm, he added.
O’Gorman said at first the group wasn’t making any headway.
The oldest of the three girls, the one who swam out to help, let go and swam to shore by herself, he said.
O’Gorman, with the two girls in tow, were able to make it to shore safely.
Local emergency responders arrived a short time after everyone was safely on shore, demonstrating how critical O’Gorman’s quick action truly was.
“As a mother and grandmother, I think I can speak for families across the country in saying that Sean O’Gorman’s brave actions were heroic. He saved two lives that day and made sure a family remained whole,” said Senator Ritchie. “I am very proud to present the New York State Senate Liberty Medal to this hero, and I thank him for his dedication to emergency response, as well as his service to our community and entire country.”
The rescue happened just two days after a 4-year-old New Hampshire boy was pulled into the ocean by a swift wave and drowned off the Outer Banks, the senator pointed out.
“When I rescued these young women, I did what any emergency responder would do,” O’Gorman explained following the award presentation. “I am pleased to receive this honor and even more pleased that a tragedy was averted, and that these lives were able to be saved.”
Two weeks earlier, O’Gorman took part in a specialized training session for rough and unpredictable water rescues.
North Carolina is known as one of the most dangerous states for rip currents.
Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that can move at speeds of up to 8 feet per second.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that about 100 people a year on average are killed by rip currents.
O’Gorman admits he’s a bit overwhelmed by all the attention; any other first responder would have done the same thing, he acquiesced, adding that he was glad he was in the right place at the right time.
There’s no difference between the waters off the North Carolina coast and the waters of the Oswego River and Lake Ontario, he said.
“You never know when a situation will turn dangerous,” he told Oswego County Today.”You should be aware of your surroundings and be prepared.”