PALM CITY, Fla. --
A Fort Lauderdale firefighter who was rescued after floating for nearly 24 hours in the ocean shared an amazing story of survival.
Lt. Patrick Scartozzi drifted away from his dive boat in the swift Gulfstream current last Friday morning, seven miles off shore east to the St. Lucie Inlet.
His dive partner on the boat couldn't see him waving for help in the choppy waters and called for help. Scartozzi could see the Coast Guard helicopters hovering on the horizon but as day turned to night, the father of three bobbed in the surf, all alone and determined to survive.
"Basically that was my drive, I had to get home to my girls, they need their father and I wanted to live," Scartozzi told Local 10's Roger Lohse.
Scartozzi has been with the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department for 12 years. He currently works as a backup Lieutenant on Engine 88 at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. He's been diving for the better part of 25 years, so he's very comfortable. That experience paid off as he prepared to spend the night treading water.
"When they couldn't find me during the day, I knew they weren't going to find me at night because I didn't have a flashlight." he said.
The Coast Guard mounted a massive rescue effort using a jet, helicopters and cutters. Scartozzi's friends and co-workers also launched their own boats to help in the search. His wife, Chris, was comforted by their extended family of firefighters while she prepared for the worst.
"My father was killed in a plane crash when I was 13, so I was having flashbacks," she said.
Scartozzi said he spent the night swimming toward the shore. At one point, he injured his hand when he fired the bullet from his bang stick into the air, hoping to catch the attention of a passing helicopter. The casing got lodged in his hand.
Shortly before dawn, his commotion in the ocean did attract a school of porpoise, not the help he wanted but it was a welcome distraction.
"I was like 'Why don't you come over here and do like in the Flipper movies and let me ride you to shore?,' " he said.
Around 8 a.m. on Saturday a Coast Guard helicopter spotted Scartozzi and hoisted him aboard. It was 21 hours and 10 miles north of where he originally got lost at sea. He was less than a mile off shore.
The 46-year-old firefighter has to take it easy for the next several weeks as his hand heals but he looks forward to getting back to work and back in the water.
"I would consider myself pretty lucky. I mean the Atlantic Ocean is a very big place," Scartozzi said.
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