OLYMPIA -- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Enforcement Officer Sgt. Mike Cenci will be awarded a U.S. Coast Guard Silver Lifesaving Medal by the U.S. Coast Guard and Gov. Gary Locke, at a ceremony at the state capitol on Friday. Cenci is being honored for the rescue of a teenage girl in the ocean surf at Long Beach last year.
The ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, (May 25) in the Governor's Conference Room of the Legislative Building in Olympia.
The incident on the beach began about 4 p.m. last June 3, when two teen-age girls were swimming in dangerous waters off the Bolstad Avernue approach to Long Beach. As they were pulled by the current to the surf line, a woman swam out to help them and was pulled out into the surf as well. A man on the beach then swam out to attempt a rescue and also was swept out into the surf.
WDFW's two local enforcement officers, Cenci and Officer Dan Bolton, were returning from boat patrol when they heard the report of a drowning in progress on their radio. They were the first on the scene, but their patrol boat, a 25-foot rigid-hull inflatable, could not be launched in the surf. Cenci saw one of the teenage girls floundering in the water and thought she would likely be pulled under by the strong ebb tide. He removed his body armor, shoes, shirt and duty belt, donned a life jacket and swam out with a life ring.
"There was a lot of pleading by the family to help," Cenci said. "I recognize that the Surf Rescue Team is best equipped to go out, but there are times when you have to make a personal choice. People did not understand that the inflatable boat could not be launched from the surf."
Cenci said he reached the girl with the life ring and was able to keep her afloat until surf rescue personnel arrived. The woman and older child were able to swim their way back to the beach, but the man who had jumped in to help, Joshua Squibb, disappeared in the surf beyond the girl before Cenci reached her. Squibb's body was found a few days later.
Cenci, an 11-year employee with the WDFW, was honored by the agency this past winter with a lifesaving medal and a medal of valor, two of the most prestigious awards Enforcement can bestow on an officer. The June 2000 rescue was the second surf rescue performed by Cenci in less than a year.