Female Coast Guard Receives Silver Lifesaving Medal for Saving 2 Drowning Men Off Long Island Coast

July 30, 2020 Updated: July 30, 2020

An off-duty Coast Guard saved two men’s lives by swimming to their aid off the coast of Long Island, New York, in the summer of 2018. Two years later, she became the second female Coast Guard ever to be recognized with a Silver Lifesaving Medal.

Victoria Vanderhaden, then a boatswain’s mate 3rd class, was strolling along the boardwalk near the Fire Island Lighthouse on July 24, 2018. She noticed the late-evening waves were hitting peaks of 6 feet amid winds of up to 30 miles an hour.

Two struggling swimmers started shouting for help in Spanish, reports Military.com. Although off duty, Victoria sprang into action.

“Once I realized how much danger they were in, I knew I had to act fast,” she explained in a Coast Guard news release. “My training as a lifeguard and my knowledge as a Coast Guard member prepared me for instances just like this.”

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Master Chief Petty Officer Jason M. Vanderhaden with his daughter, Petty Officer 2nd Class Victoria Vanderhaden, in Mobile, Alabama, on July 20, 2020 (Chief Petty Officer Crystalynn Kneen/U.S. Coast Guard)

Victoria instructed a bystander to call 911 and the local Coast Guard unit while she leapt into the water. She reached both men and helped them to stay calm and keep their heads above water. Together, Victoria and the two men swam clear of the treacherous rip current by paddling parallel to the shore.

After approximately 30 minutes, they returned safety to the beach.

Two years after the rescue of the two struggling swimmers, on July 20, 2020, Victoria was recognized for her bravery with the Silver Lifesaving Medal at an award ceremony in Mobile, Alabama. She said she was glad she was “at the right place at the right time.”

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Local EMS and additional first responders arrive on the beach at Fire Island, New York, on July 24, 2018 (U.S. Coast Guard)
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First responders arrive after off-duty Coast Guard Victoria Vanderhaden rescued two distressed swimmers at Fire Island, New York, on July 24, 2018 (U.S. Coast Guard)

The daughter of a first responder, Victoria has since risen to boatswain’s mate 2nd class. Her father, master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden attended his daughter’s award ceremony and proudly shared the event on social media.

“Today, I had the honor to witness my daughter … receive the #CoastGuard Silver Lifesaving Medal for rescuing two men off the beach of Fire Island in the summer of 2018,” Vanderhaden shared.

“I couldn’t be more proud to see Rear. Admiral Nadeau … pin the medal on her today in front of her mother and I and a small group of her shipmates,” he added.

The U.S. Coast Guard also mentioned Victoria in their “Saturday Shoutout” a few days later. “The Coast Guard #SilverLifeSavingMedal was presented to Petty Officer 2nd Class Victoria Vanderhaden for her heroic actions July 24, 2018,” they wrote on Facebook.

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(L–R) Rear Adm. John Nadeau, Capt. Ladonn Allen, Petty Officer 2nd Class Victoria Vanderhaden, Capt. Austin Ives, and Master Chief Petty Officer Jason Vanderhaden in Mobile, Alabama, on July 20, 2020 (Chief Petty Officer Crystalynn Kneen/U.S. Coast Guard)

“She is only the second Coast Guard active duty female to receive this honor alongside CWO Beth Slade,” they continued. “Bravo Zulu!”

The Lifesaving Medals were established in 1874, and in 2011, Chief Warrant Officer Slade became the first female Coast Guard to receive the honor for a successful rescue mission in 2001.

Slade and another first responder, Doug Knutzen, had risked their lives to save a fisherman trapped inside a capsized boat at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington state. The pair used a chainsaw to cut through the boat’s hull to free the trapped man.

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