San Diego Lifeguard Marc Brown wins Medal of Valor

By Ashley Mackin

San Diego Lifeguard II Marc Brown received the Medal of Valor, the highest national award for lifesaving, on Oct. 23. A member of the Boating Safety Unit, his patrol spans from Point Loma to Torrey Pines State Beach.

District 1 Councilmember Sherri Lightner said of the award, “Our lifeguards put their lives at risk every day. Marc Brown is no different, and it is great to see him recognized for the amazing job he did and continues to do. Our lifeguards protect and serve us and that’s why we need to do all we can to recognize and support them.”

The Medal of Valor has only been awarded to 40 lifeguards since its authorization in 1987.

“It wasn’t something I was thinking that I was going to get for this type of rescue. It’s much appreciated ... it’s been a great honor to receive such an award,” Brown said.

The award was given for a rescue on Nov. 20, 2011 near the Tijuana River Valley at the Mexico border. A person attempting to cross the border into the United States during heavy rainfall via a drainpipe, known as the “Gorilla Cage,” got stuck. The victim was approximately 12 feet down in the pipe on a narrow cement ledge with bolts sticking up and water and debris falling on them.

The Border Patrol officer on the scene said if the victim had fallen from the ledge, it would have been a body rescue. Brown volunteered to conduct the rescue and was lowered into the pipe through a two-foot opening. He saved the victim.

The Heroic Acts Nomination Form listing his accomplishment read, “Marc Brown took great risk and courage to volunteer to be the rescuer. He was able to remain calm, focused and very timely in his actions inside the Gorilla Cage. The area was difficult to access. The water was not only flowing over [him] and rising in the pipe, it is considered hazardous, contaminated and is full of debris, trash, etc ... Marc did not panic as the flow grew, and when he was told that he had very little time, he stayed [on] task and performed a tremendous act of bravery.”

Brown said his first rescue as a permanent lifeguard was while he was working at La Jolla Shores. In 1998, he rescued some surfers in distress off Del Mar. “The Del Mar lifeguards had an inflatable rescue boat that was coming in about 20 minutes, but we weren’t going to wait 20 minutes for a boat to come in and rescue these guys, so I proceeded to paddle out with the rescue board and rescue them,” Brown said.

“It was one of the bigger rescues I’ve done prior to this Gorilla Cage rescue ... it gave me a little taste in my mouth as to what lifeguarding is all about.”