With 2012 behind us, The Queens Courier is paying tribute to the first responders — those men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and who braved Sandy’s wrath to save, and help rebuild, lives.
They have earned our respect and admiration, and a debt of gratitude. Here is one of their stories…
Dylan Smith saved the lives of six people during Sandy using just his surfboard, but tragically lost his own life just months later while on the water.
On the night of Monday, October 29, Smith, 23, heroically paddled through the floodwaters into his neighbors’ homes in Belle Harbor, and, using a homemade rope bridge along with his surfboard, moved people to safety. However, Smith was found floating near his surfboard in the waters of Puerto Rico on Sunday, December 23, according to police. A local surfer rushed him to shore, but he could not be resuscitated.
“It’s such a sad loss,” said Jimmy Dowd. “You’ve got this great kid that does the right thing for everyone, going through his life, and he just gets taken like that.”
“He was just that all-around, neighborhood American boy,” he added. “He was a real zest-for-life kind of kid.”
Dowd, who owns a clothing company in the Rockaways, recalled that Smith really enjoyed drawing and sketching, saying he was “good with the pencil.” Smith had submitted some of his images to Dowd, and the two were talking about putting them onto T-shirts to sell.
During the summers, Smith was a lifeguard in Rockaway, and spent as much time as he could on the beach. He was a very “solid” part of the neighborhood, according to Dowd, and was always very outgoing and willing to lend a helping hand.
“He’d go out of his way for people,” said Dowd. “He was a really big-hearted, good kid.”
When summers subsided and winters settled in, Smith would fly south to spend time in Rincon, Puerto Rico. FDNY Chief Michael Light, a family friend who knew Smith his whole life, told the Daily News that Smith went to the popular surfing spot on Maria’s Beach to “unwind” and “blow off some steam.”
On the night of the storm, the young surfer acted with longtime neighbor, Michael McDonnell. The pair rescued their Beach 130th Street neighbors not only from the rising flood, but also from widespread house fires.
Following Sandy, both Smith and McDonnell were named two of People magazine’s 2012 Heroes of the Year.
– With additional reporting by Cristabelle Tumola
More Queens Courier Persons of the Year:
- Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department
- Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department
- West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department
- York College students