Medal of valor, commendations for firefighters, lifeguards in Fort Morgan drowning incident

Baldwin County

GULF SHORES, Ala. (WKRG) — Six first responders from the Gulf Shores Fire Department honored at the Gulf Shores city council meeting for their heroic acts during the emergency call in Fort Morgan last month that ultimately took the life of Baldwin County Deputy Bill Smith.

Veteran firefighters Logan Lambert and Matthew Bartl were both awarded the department’s second-highest honor, the Medal of Valor for their efforts to rescue Deputy Smith and beach attendant Donte Reed from the Gulf waters.

Four lifeguards, Joethan Phillips, Lauren Bozeman, Mack Hirsh and Tyler Lancaster, also received commendations for their efforts in rescuing Deputy Sydney Wentworth and two other swimmers in the same incident.

It was Sunday afternoon, June 6, when the call went out of multiple swimmers caught in a rip current off Fort Morgan.

“Bill dispatched us prior to going into the water,” says Logan Lambert. It would be the last radio call Bill Smith would ever make.

Lambert and partner Matt Bartl answered their friend’s call. “We entered the water. I got to the first set and ask if they were ok. They said no but go get the unconscious deputy. There were two swimmers further out and me and my partner kept swimming,” says Lambert. He knew, as he swam further into the Gulf, the unconscious deputy was Bill Smith. Smith’s partner Deputy Sydney Wentworth was also in trouble with two other swimmers.

“I’ve never had that scenario where I had to rescue someone I actually knew and the outcome not turn the way I wanted,” Lambert said.

Everyone would make it out of the water. Deputy Smith would not survive. “It’s obviously a tragedy,” Bartl said. “Luckily he was the only one that was a victim and everyone else was able to be saved.”

Lifeguards from Gulf Shores were able to get to the other victims. Tyler Lancaster helped Deputy Wentworth back to shore. “She was a trooper, a champ. She loaded right up on the ski and I was asking her questions to make she was alright.” More than a month later, he says, the events of that day are still with him. “It was tragic. But to honor Bill’s heroism and what he did that day, that is an inspiration to me.”

Although one life was lost, firefighter Bartl finds peace in knowing five lives were saved. “We know we did everything we possibly could with the situation that was presented. I don’t know that we could have done anything different.”

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