NAVARRE BEACH — Alexander Julio was honored Saturday with the Navarre Beach Fire Rescue’s first-ever Citizens Lifesaving Award after he rescued a girl from drowning in the rough surf of the Gulf of Mexico in March.
At about 6:14 p.m. March 24, Julio, a 27-year-old University of West Florida student from Navarre Beach, was surfing near the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier when he saw a young girl in distress.
“I was pretty far out” in the Gulf, which was producing rip currents, Julio recalled Saturday before the award ceremony at the fire station on Utility Drive. “I saw a head above the water by the pier. I got closer and saw that she was in distress.”
Julio said the girl was clinging to a man who had tried to rescue her and a young boy, who also was in distress.
The man, Air Force veteran Michael Robidoux of Navarre, got caught in an undertow and later died.
Julio was able to bring the girl to shore. Another surfer, who wishes to remain unnamed, brought the boy in, Navarre Beach Fire Rescue Chief Danny Fureigh said. He said the girl and the boy were about 10 years old, but he didn’t know if they were tourists or residents.
“The kids were unsupervised” when they were in the rough water, Fureigh said.
A firefighter had tried to get to the children by riding a personal watercraft but the rough surf did not allow it. The firefighter was able to rescue three other swimmers who were unable to make it back to shore.
Julio was honored as a lifesaver during Saturday’s Navarre Beach Leaseholders meeting at the fire station.
Reading from the award proclamation, Fureigh told Julio, “Your quick actions and willingness to help others in their time of need saved a life. Had you not grabbed that young girl, she would have drowned.”
The proclamation also reads, “Heroes are not born, but forged when circumstances dictate they arise to the occasion in the service of others.”
“So he is the definition of a hero,” Fureigh said of Julio.
The chief gave Julio the framed award document; a fire rescue challenge coin that shows a likeness of Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters; a T-shirt from the fire rescue union; and a T-shirt, cooler and a surfer’s rash guard from the Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council.
The challenge coins are “very close to our heart,” Fureigh said. “We don’t give them to just anybody.”
Richard Querney, owner of the Shark Bite Navarre snack cart, gave Julio a $50 gift certificate from the business as well as $100 in cash.
“He’s a college student, so he could use the money,” Querney said.
Before the ceremony, Fureigh recalled that a yellow flag — which indicates potentially high surf or dangerous currents and undertows — had been flying on the beach on the evening of March 24, but no lifeguards had been on duty at the time. Fureigh said he is working to extend the lifeguards’ coverage time.