Carnegie Medal Presentation to Robert J. Selfridge III

Chief Fred Grimste of the Barnegat Light (New Jersey) Volunteer Fire Company presented the Carnegie Medal to Robert J. Selfridge III at a ceremony held June 27 at his fire hall.

Selfridge, 58, of Harvey Cedars, New Jersey, received the Carnegie Medal for an Aug. 7, 2022, water rescue in which he rescued a woman and her 4-year-old daughter from drowning in the Barnegat Inlet off Island Beach State Park. The two were trapped in the cabin of a capsized boat, keeping their heads above water in an air pocket. 

As the boat sank, the air pocket shrank and water rose to the mother’s chin. Selfridge, an off-duty EMT and volunteer lifeguard, arrived at the scene on a WaveRunner to find rescuers using towboat lines to attempt to right the 23-foot-long boat. After determining those efforts were not working and racing against the setting sun, Selfridge told other rescuers “We gotta go under.” 

“This could be a one-way trip,” one eyewitness told Selfridge. 

He was the fourth trained and experienced rescuer to attempt to swim under the gunwale of the boat and enter the cabin, but cold water, and limited visibility thwarted the efforts of the other three. 

Borrowing a diving mask and taking several deep breaths, Selfridge submerged, swimming under the gunwale and into the cabin. Maneuvering around broken railings and debris, Selfridge took the girl from her mother, told her to take a deep breath, and, carrying her, swam out of the cabin, out from under the boat, and surfaced, the mother following. Selfridge sustained a broken finger but no life-threatening injuries.

“We are thankful to have him as a dedicated member of our fire company, and our community,” Barnegat Light Volunteer Fire Company posted to Facebook. “Congratulations Bobby and thank you for all you do for us and the community!”