An off-duty volunteer firefighter from northeastern Pennsylvania died Saturday afternoon while trying to save three swimmers caught off a Maryland beach.
Brian Firkal, 27, of the Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania fire department was vacationing with family in Ocean City, Maryland, according to Ocean City Fire Department spokesman Capt. Steve Price.
At about 3:30 p.m., three swimmers were in distress about 100 yards off the shore, Price said. Firkal, apparently on the beach nearby, went into the water in an effort to assist the swimmers.
"It's our understanding that [Firkal] had entered the water and was making an effort to assist [the other swimmers] in coming back to shore," Price said.
Rescuers from multiple agencies, including the Ocean City Fire Department, Ocean City Police, Ocean City Emergency Services (EMS), and the Ocean City Beach Patrol, arrived and found the swimmers in distress, and returned them safely to shore.
However, at some point during the rescue, Firkal was lost in the rough surf. His body was located and recovered by the U.S. Coast Guard, and transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Price said Firkal's home department and family were notified Saturday evening. His wife was in Ocean City with him. According to Price, Firkal was a school teacher at a local vocational center in his Pennsylvania hometown.
Nesquehoning fire company president Mark Stromelo said Firkal had been with the department for about a year and a half, and had previously served with two other fire departments.
Firkal is survived by his wife of three years, Jayne. In addition to spending time with his wife and serving the fire department, Firkal enjoyed fishing and golf.
Stromelo said Firkal's fellow firefighters were not surprised that he put his life on the line to try to save the swimmers. "That's the kind of guy he was," Stromelo said.
"He would do anything for you," Stromelo said. "Anything you asked him to do, no problem, he went out and did it."
Stromelo said this is the first death in the department other than any due to natural causes. "It has the guys in shock," he said. "We have low morale right now. We've just got to get through it."
The Nesquehoning Fire Company is an all volunteer department with about 50 members, serving a population of 3,000 in a rural area of about 25 square miles in the foothills of the Poconos.
The viewing will take place Wednesday from 6-9 p.m. at St. Michael's Church on East Abbott St. in Lansford, PA. The funeral will take place at the church Thursday at 11 a.m. Stromelo said Ocean City rescue workers plan to attend. Any other departments that wish to attend are asked to contact the Nesquehoning Fire Company in advance at (570) 669-6684.