Local Hero Honored
Dylan Smith risked his life to save others on the night Sandy struck, and for that bravery – and his tragic death just two months later — his name is set to be immortalized on the corner of his family’s street.
During last Tuesday’s Community Board 14 meeting, the group unanimously voted “yes” to renaming the corner of Beach 130th Street and Newport Avenue “Dylan Smith’s Way.”
While standing in front of the Community Board on Tuesday evening, Dylan Smith’s mother, Mary, recalled the events that took place on the night of Hurricane Sandy.
While many residents saw the impacts of Sandy’s floodwaters, the Smiths watched as their neighbor’s homes and the Harbor Light restaurant, where Dylan worked when he wasn’t lifeguarding on the beach, went up in flames.
“I was trying to keep water from the first floor when Dylan said ‘Mom, come here, you have to hear this.’ There were people screaming from across the street,” Mary Smith recalled. “He said ‘Mom, I have to go out and help them.’”
His mother was reluctant to let him go out into the storm, as he had been having seizures recently, but she couldn’t stop him once he brought up the point of what his firefighter father, Timmy, would do.
“What if they’re burning? What would dad do?” Mary Smith recalled her son saying.
Smith quickly suited up in a wetsuit, grabbed his surfboard and went out into the night through his living room window, as the water was too close to the doors.
“He got on his surfboard and paddled away. Within seconds, I couldn’t see him,” Mary said. With the chaos of the night, Mary never got a chance to ask her son what had happened that night and he never said anything about it.
It wasn’t until days after that her neighbors told her of her son’s heroics. Many of those neighbors would go on to tell the tales of their encounters with Dylan that night in a documentary called “Seven Miles to Shore” by local John Sica. Sica also spoke at Tuesday’s Community Board meeting and retold some of the stories from his documentary.
On that terrifying night, resident Michael McDonnell had created a rope bridge out of twine and extension cords, to try to help neighbors get across the street to safer properties as houses burned around them. McDonnell was tying the rope to a tree, and was trying to figure out how he would be able to get it from across the street with all of the debris coming down the street with the rushing floodwaters.
“Out of the black, with embers pouring down, I don’t even know where he came from … all of a sudden, right at our steps ‘Do you guys need help?’ It was Dylan,” neighbor Kathy Cregg said in Sica’s documentary.
Smith waited for McDonnell to finish expanding the rope bridge, when he noticed that McDonnell’s second floor caught on fire. Smith immediately left his surfboard, ran into the house and put the fire out with buckets of water, before rescuing three people in the house. Smith came back, grabbed his surfboard and swam the other end of the rope bridge to a brick house on the other side of the street and tied it. Some of the neighbors held on to the rope bridge and walked across while Smith helped transport others across on his surfboard.
Smith is believed to have rescued at least a dozen people that night. Among some of the other neighbors were 12-year-old Lauren Marten, who had a broken arm and a 60-year-old woman who had concerns about her weak heart. Smith put them at ease and rescued them both with his surfboard.
Smith went on to be named one of People Magazine’s 2012 Heroes of the Year along with McDonnell for the rope bridge rescue. However he never accepted the “hero” label.
“He hated the attention,” Mary Smith said.
In an interview with the New York Daily News, Smith had said “I don’t think I’m a hero. Absolutely not. I just did what I was trained to. I’m a lifeguard. I surf. This is what I do.”
Following the events of Sandy, Smith wanted to blow off steam by spending time doing what he loved, surfing. He went on a trip to Rincon, Puerto Rico on December 18 to enjoy the warmer weather and waves. Smith lost his life during a surfing accident in Rincon on December 23, 2012. He was 23 years old.
Thirteen people had signed up to speak in support of renaming the corner “Dylan Smith’s Way” at the Community Board meeting, but after Mary Smith and John Sica’s speech, the Community Board didn’t need any more convincing. Every board member in attendance voted to approve renaming the street. Following the approval, everyone in the room turned around to Mary and Timmy Smith and gave them a standing ovation.
“We’re so honored, and it would be a beautiful way to keep his memory alive,” Mary Smith said.
The decision for the street renaming now needs to be approved by the City Council, which may happen within the next few weeks.