Off-duty Palm Bay firefighter rescues family from capsized boat


PALM BAY, Fla. - An off-duty Palm Bay firefighter said he was just in the right place at the right time when he rescued four people and a dog from an overturned vessel during a trip on his boat with his family.

Firefighter Cliff Schoonmaker, a 30-year-veteran with Palm Bay Fire Rescue, was traveling back from a boating trip in the Bahamas earlier this month when his daughter spotted something that she thought was odd in the distance.

Schoonmaker went off course to see what it was and quickly realized it was an overturned boat near the Fort Pierce Inlet.

A woman was lying on top of the boat and three others were clinging to the side, along with a dog that was thrashing in the water.

Schoonmaker tried to radio the Coast Guard with his location and GPS coordinates.

A tow boat was contacted but was unable to find the vessel.

The victims has radioed earlier that they were taking on water and needed help.

Schoonmaker and his family immediately started pulling the victims out of the water and into their boat until a tow boat eventually arrived.

“We did what anyone else would have done in the situation,” Schoonmaker said. “I’m just glad my daughter saw it and we were able to help out.”

The Schoonmaker’s don’t know how long the family was in the water, but said the group was in shock and grateful for the rescue.