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First Responder Drowns Trying To Save Others At St. George Island

Beach with red flags flying
Drake Fleege
The Franklin County sheriff says Tuesday's drowning at St. George Island was avoidable. He says no one is allowed in the water when double red flags are posted

A first responder drowned Tuesday at St. George Island. Franklin County Sheriff A.J. “Tony” Smith made the announcement in a Facebook video.

“We’re just very heavy-hearted,” Smith said, after praising first responders and deputies as heroes. “A lot of people were put at risk today because someone decided to go in the water when they shouldn’t have.”

Double red flags were posted at the beach, meaning no swimming is allowed due to hazardous conditions. Smith says tourists, not locals, are the ones ignoring the warnings.

“Please don’t go in the water or allow your children in the water. You’re putting other people at risk,” Smith said. “The surf was so rough, even with flotation devices, deputies were having trouble even saving themselves. The conditions are terrible.”

Hurricane Laura is in the Gulf of Mexico, kicking up big waves and rip currents along Florida’s coast.

“If you’re in the water, and you’re told to leave and you don’t, you will be arrested,” Smith said. “There’s no reason for any other loss of life.”

The first responder who died is identified as St. George Island volunteer firefighter Brian Smith. The sheriff said another first responder was transported for treatment and is “doing fine.”

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.