Kauai Beach Rescue

In October 2015, Engineer Darin Laier, who at the time held the rank of firefighter, was on vacation in Kauai, Hawaii, with his wife and four-year-old triplets. Laier and his family were enjoying an afternoon at Queen’s Bath, an area on the north side of the island. While the spot is advertised to tourists as a calm swimming hole, in the winter months it is notorious for treacherous waves.

LAFD Darin Laier medal of value rescue on Kauai's northern coast

On Kauai’s northern coast is a popular travel attraction, a tide pool called Queen’s Bath. It’s a great place to relax and float while on vacation.

As Laier and his family were making their way back from the beach, they spotted a group of three high school-aged teenagers taking photos on a cluster of rocks. Preoccupied with their cameras, the three failed to realize that with each crash against the rocks, the waves were growing stronger and more threatening.

Suddenly, a rogue wave surged against them, engulfing them entirely. While two of the teens were lucky enough to be pushed back against the rock wall behind them, the third, a girl, slipped out of sight, sucked deep into a cavernous pool of aerated water approximately 35 feet below the rocks.

Landlocked and trapped in the swirling pool, the girl was struggling for her life. Without a moment’s thought, Laier darted towards the rocks, approaching as close as he could to the water’s edge without being pulled in himself. In his first few tries, he managed to grab hold of the young girl’s fingertips, but the strength of the waves ripped her from his grasp.

In that moment, Laier says, he realized his face — the face of a stranger — might be the last face the young girl would ever see.

With the next surge of the waves, the girl was flung against a ledge approximately ten feet below him. This time, Laier grabbed hold on the girl’s wrist and, with her shocked and terrified friends helping him, pulled her from the churning water.

Due to Laier’s heroic efforts, the young girl, 16, escaped the water with nothing more than scrapes and bruises. “Thanks to his courage and determination,” says Kauai Fire Chief Robert Westerman, “Darin was successful in literally plucking her from the treacherous waves that were pounding her against the rocks.”

Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas notes that firefighters are on duty 24/7/365. Although technically off-duty, Engineer Laier performed instinctively, using the skills he learned and his talent as a firefighter.

The LAFD salutes Darin Laier for his courage, and because he demonstrated bravery at great personal risk, awarded him with the Medal of Valor.