by Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq.
The Life Saving Benevolent Association (LSBA) was founded in New York City in 1849 by private citizens committed to saving lives along the shores of New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey. The Association’s objectives are to recognize and reward courage in the rescue of human life at sea or on navigable waters; to encourage training in seamanship, rescue methods and resuscitation; and to perform other services of a charitable and educational nature.
While the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) has administered the LSBA since 2009, the LSBA remains an independent charity with its own board of directors. I am the president of the LSBA and was recently honored, along with fellow board member and Treasurer Leslie O’Neal, to preside over the 2018 LSBA awards ceremony at the SCI’s International Seafarers’ Center in Port Newark. Since its first awards ceremony in 1850, the LSBA has been privileged to honor the lifesaving efforts of more than 1,000 heroes. This year we honored Nikolas DeVoe (for two rescues), Thomas Piccuro, and Kristian Falkenstein.
At about 5:30 on Friday afternoon of June 9, 2017, three men were being pulled out to sea by heavy currents off Seaside Heights, NJ. Nikolas DeVoe and Thomas Piccuro, who were preparing to go surfing at the beach, saw and heard the three men screaming for help, recognized that they were in obvious trouble, and quickly sprang into action. Nikolas swam out to rescue the closest swimmer and Thomas paddled out to the farthest struggling swimmer on his surfboard. After bringing the first struggling swimmer to shore, Nikolas then swam out the second swimmer in distress. Near exhaustion, and with the help of a lifeguard, Nikolas also rescued the second swimmer. Thomas, meanwhile, reached the third swimmer who was farther out to sea and brought him safely to the beach.
On the afternoon of September 23, 2017, while playing volleyball on Belmar beach in New Jersey, Kristian Falkenstein observed a swimmer in distress in rough waters off the beach. There were no lifeguards on duty and apparently no-one willing to go into the rough waters to rescue him. Kristian immediately swam out to the distressed swimmer and struggled to keep his and the swimmer’s heads above water in the huge waves and strong currents. The strong currents prevented him from bringing the man to shore. After about 15 minutes a police officer arrived with a floatation aid to assist them, but rough seas and strong currents continued to prevent them from reaching shore. Eventually a Coast Guard boat arrived to rescue them.
On the afternoon of September 25, 2017, Nikolas DeVoe was walking along the boardwalk at Seaside Heights, NJ to check out surfing conditions created by Hurricane Maria. He observed two people in the water too far out to be swimming safely. One of the two managed to find a place to stand and called for help. He was too exhausted to swim. Nikolas immediately ran to the water, leaving his belongings with a stranger on the beach, and swam out to the other person, a distressed woman struggling against rough waters and a strong rip current. Nikolas reached the woman and swam her safely back to shore. Her boyfriend (now husband) who made it to the sandbar was so exhausted he had been unable to swim further to rescue her. When he saw she was safe he also returned to shore.
The evening was a great success, honoring the bravery and selfless actions of these three individuals. It was made even more special by the presence of Luciana Freitas Calderón (the woman rescued by Nikolas DeVoe), who attended with her husband, Felipe Calderón.