News >> Browse Articles >> Fallen Firefighter


Family Swept to Sea by Hurricane Wave Rescued by City Firefighter

Family Swept to Sea by Hurricane Wave Rescued by City Firefighter

Louis Cerchio with his daughter Jenna, 4, and his son Louis, 5 at the firehouse in Westfield. Over the weekend, Cerchio rescued some swimmers who got swept to sea when he was down the shore with his family.

The Star-Leger via YellowBrix

September 22, 2010

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, NJ — After a pleasant Sunday morning at Jenkinson’s boardwalk on Point Pleasant Beach, Raechel Fisher went with her 10-year-old son, Zack, to the water’s edge so he could wash the sand off his feet.

She leaned down to rinse out his beach toys. When she looked up and saw fierce waves coming, panic set in.

“The water was already up to his knees, and there was another wave behind him,” said Fisher, 31, of Gloversville, N.Y. “It just took him faster than I could get to him. I screamed out his name, and I yelled, ‘Help!’ And I started running for him, and another wave came up and grabbed me and pulled me in.”

Lou Cerchio, of Scotch Plains, was on the same beach with his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two children, a 3-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. None of them intended to swim, with the waves as strong as they were.

But when the 37-year-old Westfield firefighter heard screaming, he jumped into action.

“The lady behind us had said, ‘Oh my God, there’s people in the water. They’re in trouble,’” said Lisa Cerchio, 32. “Just as soon as I heard this, I saw my husband running toward the water. He threw his cell phone into the sand. I picked it up and dialed 9-1-1.”

Hundreds of people on the beach watched, immobilized, said Joe DiGrado, 61, of Langhorne, Pa., who was there with his daughter. The waves, spawned by Hurricane Igor, were huge, too rough for others who might have followed Cerchio.

Fisher was able to get to her son and grabbed hold of him as they bobbed in the water.

“I was trying to keep him up, and he yelled ‘Help! Help us!’” she said. “That’s when our rescuer, my angel, came out and told us to stay calm.”

Cerchio, a former teacher, worked as a lifeguard 13 summers ago at the same beach. But this rescue was different than anything he’d experienced before. He had no rope for people on the shore to bring him back in. He didn’t have a “torp,” a flotation device with a body strap.

Because it was post-season, no lifeguards were on duty to back him up. Once he dived in — wearing cargo shorts — and reached Fisher and her son, all he could do was help them ride out the choppy waves and wait.

“I was staying afloat until we had help, and the ocean could’ve done what it wanted with us,” he said.

Cerchio, a firefighter for six years, said he asked Fisher and her son if they could swim. “Neither one was responding to anything I was saying,” he said. “They were both completely white and barely keeping their heads above the water.”

Cerchio grabbed the woman’s arm and held fast to the boy’s shorts. But a wave ripped the boy’s clothes off. Cerchio lost his grip on him two or three times. Mother and son clung tightly to each other.

Waiters from a tiki bar on the boardwalk took down red boogie boards from a display and came to the trio’s aid, DiGrado said. “They just jumped right in like it was their job,” the beach-goer said. They dragged the mother and son out of the water and onto the beach

“He did a great job,” said Pat Petruzziello, a detective from the Point Pleasant Beach Police Department. “I think his (firefighter) training kicked in.”

Fisher never got a chance to thank her rescuer.

“I didn’t know where he went,” she said. “Everything was so chaotic. I wanted to thank him. There’s not even enough words for me to thank him. He didn’t have to do what he did.”

Cerchio felt relieved the boy and his mom were both okay.

“It was a real happy ending. The bottom line is that a woman and a son got to go home,” the firefighter said. “I’m glad I was able to make a difference in someone’s life.”