County worker crowned a 'hero' for water rescue

The Baltimore Sun

Vince Dominick was watching TV with some buddies on a windy day in October when he heard a helicopter whirring nearby. He stepped outside his friend's home on the Gunpowder River in eastern Baltimore County and saw a terrifying sight.

A state police helicopter was hovering over a capsized sailboat. One woman was balanced on the boat while another struggled in the chilly water, clinging to the side of the boat. The helicopter's rescue basket swung wildly in the wind, out of reach of both women.

Dominick and his friends jumped in a powerboat, motored out to the two women and brought them to safety.

Yesterday, Dominick received a "Baltimore County Hero Pin" in honor of his actions.

"You get in that cold water, and you got to get out of there like that," said Dominick, a Middle River resident, who says that he has spent much of his life on county waterways.

A worker with the county's Bureau of Highways, the 31-year- old spends most of his days patching potholes and sidewalks.

Yesterday, he took a break to hear County Executive James T. Smith Jr. declare Dec. 20 "Vince Dominick Day."

"Our community thrives because we have people who care, people who get involved, people who help their neighbors when it's needed," Smith said.

Dominick, a county employee for seven years, said, "I was just doing my good deed."

He wore his work clothes - a bright orange T-shirt and windbreaker, blue jeans and boots - to the county executive's Towson office to accept his award.

Dominick said that he was hanging out with his friends, Dale Blevin and Ricky Altenburg, at Blevin's home in the Oliver Beach area Oct. 23 when they saw the helicopter about 3 p.m. After realizing that the women were unable to climb into the helicopter basket, the men called Altenburg's brother and asked him if they could borrow his boat, which was docked nearby.

The boat's owner had planned to pull it out of the water for the winter the day before, but something had come up, and he had left it by the dock.

Dominick and his friends motored out to the two women, who are sisters. County officials did not release their names yesterday, noting privacy regulations.

One sister was sitting on the boat, speaking with rescue workers on her cell phone. The other sister dangled in the water, grasping the side of the boat. She was barely moving and appeared to be suffering from hypothermia.

Dominick helped the first sister into the motorboat. Then he turned his attention to the woman in the water. It took two men to get her into the boat because she was too weak to pull herself up.

The men then headed 200 feet to the nearest dock and delivered the women to rescue workers.

The woman who had been in the water was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Her sister was taken to Franklin Square Hospital Center. Both recovered.

Dominick said that he has not spoken with the sisters since that day. But recently, he and his friends received a thank-you card from them.

Tucked inside was a gift certificate for one of their favorite restaurants, Crab Quarters in Middle River.

Yesterday marked the second time that the county had awarded Dominick a hero pin. In 2003, he received one in recognition for his efforts to clean up after Tropical Storm Isabel.

His co-workers tease him about his good deeds, Dominick said. "They kept rubbing it in, saying 'You're a hero.'"

Dominick, who acknowledged falling through the ice a few times as a kid, said he recognized the danger of the situation and did what he had to do.

Besides, he added, "I've been on crab boats and all, so anything that's on the water is OK with me."

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