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Roanoke County police officer, firefighter honored for valor

September 11, 2013 | Virginia News

The pair were instrumental in saving two people from drowning while on vacation in North Carolina.

TIFFANY HOLLAND | The Roanoke Times

It was supposed to be the kickoff to a long relaxing vacation at the beach.

Roanoke County police Officer Eric Austin and his friend of many years, Roanoke County firefighter Barry Brown, took a trip with their wives, Jill Austin and Lauren Brown, to Holden Beach, N.C., over the Fourth of July holiday.

The weather was rough for most of the Southeast that week, and the two rescue workers heard repeated alerts about the heavy rip currents in the ocean, which can turn calm waters into a churning, choppy danger for swimmers.

The foursome as well as the Austins’ two children had just nestled under an umbrella in the sand about 5 p.m. when Eric Austin noticed something odd on the mostly empty beach : a woman running toward the water with a book in her hand. He saw her throw it aside as she jumped into the ocean.

Austin realized something was wrong. He looked 200 yards out into the ocean and there was a boy, about 8 or 9 years old, caught in the current going farther out.

“You could tell she was trying to scream, but it was so loud, you couldn’t hear anything,” he said.

Austin immediately went to help. Brown was half-asleep when he saw his friend get up toward the water.

“It wasn’t without hesitation,” Austin said. “I knew if I went, he was coming too. It’s one of those things, it just goes back with the training, you don’t let your buddy go into a burning building by themselves.”

Austin and Brown dived in the water and were also swept up by the current. Brown, an experienced swimmer, made it to the boy first. The woman — the boy’s mother — had reached him by that point and was hysterical, nearly drowning both of them, the men said. Brown grabbed the boy from her and hoisted him above his head. They were still about 200 yards out, but he tried to be calm.

“Don’t panic in the current, just go with it,” he told himself...

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