FDNY Firefighter Drowns Trying to Save Son

Posted: 07-25-2008
Updated: 07-25-2008 10:01:39 AM

BY KEITH HERBERT. keith.herbert@newsday.com; Emerson Clarridge, and staff writers Rocco Parascandola

A New York City firefighter and Nesconset resident who drowned in the cold waters of Lake Tahoe trying to rescue his son while vacationing came home last night, his coffin and hearse receiving a police escort to a Smithtown funeral home.

Martin Simmons, 41, died after jumping from a boat into the lake that borders both California and Nevada to rescue his 10-year-old son, who had been swimming but had trouble staying afloat.

Simmons, a former city police officer, was assigned to Ladder 111, which is based in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

Simmons' father, Paul, 77, of Elmont, said his son had been to Lake Tahoe several times, staying with his wife's sister, who owned the boat with her husband.

Paul Simmons said Martin, his youngest son, and Kevin, his grandson, were good swimmers.

"My wife and I are in shock," Paul Simmons said of himself and his wife, Florence Simmons, 76. Joe Kubo, a Washoe County, Nev., coroner, ruled the death an accidental drowning.

Simmons' body was flown to New York last night. With a one-car State Police escort, the body was driven in a hearse to The Branch Funeral Home on East Main Street in Smithtown.

The booms of two Nesconset Volunteer Fire Department trucks formed an arch over the entrance of the funeral home when the hearse arrived about 7:30 last night.

A 20-by-30-foot American flag hung in the arch.

Simmons had spent Monday aboard his sister-in-law's 28-foot powerboat inside Sand Harbor State Park when tragedy struck about 5:45 p.m.

The Nevada Division of Wildlife, which is investigating the drowning because it involved a boat, gave the following account:

Simmons' son, Kevin, 10, voluntarily left the boat to swim in the lake.

He got into trouble, possibly from a leg cramp. Simmons jumped into the lake to help his son, and he, too, became distressed. Kevin's uncle, William King, 47, of Incline Village, Nev., dived into the water to rescue the boy.

A lifeguard nearby heard the commotion and came to the family's aid.

King handed the boy off to lifeguards and informed them that Simmons was still in the lake. The lifeguards' search turned up Simmons' body floating in water about 15 feet deep.

He wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse, according to published reports. Kevin was taken to a hospital for treatment and released about two hours later.

Published accounts said witnesses estimated Simmons was under water for 8 to 10 minutes.

The water temperature - in the low 60s on the surface, and in the mid-50s a few feet down - may have played a role in the drowning, officials said.

None of the people on the boat involved in the accident wore a life jacket, said Edwin Lyngar, a spokesman with the Nevada Division of Wildlife.

"We run into these kinds of cases every year," Lyngar said.

"A lot of people, tourists, don't realize how cold the water is in Lake Tahoe."

The boy's mother, Judi Simmons, 41, and her sister, Elizabeth King, 43, of Incline Village, and five other children were on the boat at the time of the drowning.

Emerson Clarridge, and staff writers Rocco Parascandola and John Hildebrand contributed to this story.