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Engineering Student Helps Rescue Struggling Swimmer During Spring Break Trip

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A student in the School of Engineering was one of three University of Kansas students credited with rescuing a young boy in March from a riptide during their spring break trip to Florida.

Cole Firmature, a junior in architectural engineering, said he decided at nearly the last minute to make the trip to Destin, Florida with a group of friends from the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. “It was a last-minute thing,” Firmature said. “Eight or nine of us decided to go down there and make the most of it, go to the warm weather really."

Firmature hit the beach with two other KU friends — Jared Cox of Overland Park and Connor Churchill of Olathe —on the morning of March 11, when suddenly the trio were called into action.

“All of a sudden a mom comes up, yelling for help, asking where the lifeguard's at,” Firmature said. She pointed offshore, to where the boy, about 10, was on a boogie board and struggling against the current. There appeared to be no lifeguards on the scene, he said, so: "We went out there, grabbed him and brought him back in."

The incident made it into the news when a witness at the beach — a woman, Kaci Gilchrist, who was vacationing with her family — posted comments about it to her Facebook page.

Firmature said events happened so quickly they became a blur as the trio reacted on instinct. “It was more take off and do it,” he said. “The more I think back it's just that we went for it, all three of us did. It was more of an instinct, I think.”

The rescue was widely reported in Kansas City-area media, as well as in national outlets like Yahoo. "We didn't expect to get the notice we ended up getting,” Firmature said. “It's something that ended up meaning something to a lot to a whole lot of people. We didn't think about the big picture, what all this meant — we were just hoping this kid would be able to finish off a good vacation with his family.”

Firmature’s hometown is Omaha. He came to Kansas despite being a lifelong fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers after meeting some alumni of KU’s architectural engineering program.  “The more I've gotten to know people here,” he said, “it's been incredible."

Firmature, however, is humbled by his participation in the child’s rescue. “I'm just glad he's OK,” he said of the boy. “That's all I know to say.”





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