South Walton lifeguard receives recognition for life-saving rescue at Miramar Beach

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

MIRAMAR BEACH — A South Walton Fire District lifeguard is receiving recognition for his quick thinking and skills that helped save a potential drowning victim’s life Monday evening. 

Zander Angelovic was on duty at Tower 54 in Miramar Beach most of the day Monday. The morning had been calm, with only a few light rip currents. Flags were yellow, indicating only a moderate threat. 

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“I looked left and right all day long when I was at the tower,” Angelovic said.

Toward the end of the day, he looked off to the left again and saw somewhat frantic movement in the water. The area was just outside of his primary zone of coverage and too far away for him to hear what was going on. 

“Somebody was just off the first sand bar where they couldn’t touch. I noticed they were just kind of bobbing up and down,” Angelovic said. “It was abnormal swimming behavior because that’s not a very good way to stay afloat.”

South Walton Fire District Fire Chief Ryan Crawford, lifeguard Zander Angelovic, Beach Safety Director David Vaughan and EMS Chief Tim Orenic (from left) pose for a photo. Officials commended Angelovic for helping rescue a man from the Gulf of Mexico on Monday evening.

As he climbed down to make sure the swimmers were safe, Angelovic said someone came running out of the water and told him, “He needs help, he can’t swim.”

Angelovic grabbed a rescue board and began paddling out to the swimmers. He had spotted only two swimmers in the area, but soon realized they were holding onto a third person who was floating in the water and appeared to be unconscious. 

“In the moment, I was sternly asking them for their help, telling them ‘Help me get him on the board,’ ” Angelovic said. 

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Together, they were able to lift the man onto the rescue board, but the other swimmers were too exhausted to give the potential drowning victim mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, so Angelovic manually opened his airway and gave him one rescue breath.

“When someone drowns they have all of this foam coming out from their lungs,” he said. “They’re not breathing, so you have to interrupt that drowning process and you’ve got to give some rescue breaths through that foam in order to start re-oxygenating them. That needs to happen as soon as possible.”

A South Walton beach ambassador speaks with a lifeguard in Miramar Beach.

The man’s diaphragm began to move once again and another friend of the victim swam out to help. With Angelovic's instruction, she continued to give the man mouth-to-mouth until they could get him to shore. 

“She is probably one of the biggest factors in saving his life because before we were even out of the water, before I could get to my medical equipment, he was getting consistent rescue breaths from her giving him mouth-to-mouth,” Angelovic said. 

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Angelovic provided the man further care with medical equipment on the beach until South Walton Fire District Advanced Life Support Units arrived and took him to the nearest hospital. 

As of Tuesday morning, the man was reportedly recovering in the hospital's ICU.

South Walton Fire District EMS Chief Tim Orenic awarded Angelovic with two challenge coins for his efforts. One was in recognition of saving a life and another for a prompt, competent and caring response in a time of need. 

Two challenge coins were presented to South Walton Fire District lifeguard Zander Angelovic following his life-saving rescue at Miramar Beach on Monday evening.

Fire Chief Ryan Crawford and Beach Safety Director David Vaughan also met with Angelovic to commend him on his work.

For Angelovic, it was just another day on the job. 

“Obviously, it feels good when somebody survives after a situation where you don’t know the outcome. It’s good to know,” he said. “It’s an outcome that many times ends poorly, so it was awesome that he was able to recover.”

While only yellow flags were flying Monday, emergencies can happen at any time. Angelovic said he hopes the near-drowning shows the public the importance of knowing how to respond in cases of emergency and knowing how to use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. 

Using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to oxygenate blood is the main way to save a person's life if he or she still has a pulse. 

“What I had instructed his friends to do is what the public should know to do,” Angelovic said. “Using equipment is great, but usually it’s only first responders who have that. You will increase their chance of survival better than any other treatment.”