‘True hero’: Retired firefighter dies while saving swimmers caught in rip current

Officials say a retired fire captain, Richie Alford, died while rescuing two distressed swimmers who were caught in a rip current. (Source: Atlanta News First)
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 8:17 PM EDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WANF/Gray News) - Family and friends are mourning the loss of a former Georgia firefighter who lost his life while helping others.

The Banks County Fire and EMS report that retired Captain Richie Alford died Thursday afternoon while rescuing two distressed swimmers who were caught in a rip current at Panama City Beach.

According to the Panama City Beach Police Department, Richie Alford’s body was recovered just after 1 p.m. A witness said Alford went into the water to help the swimmers. They made it back to shore, but Alford did not.

Richie Alford was pronounced dead just after 2 p.m.

“He did what he was taught to do, save lives. And that’s what he did,” the man’s father, Robert Alford, said.

There was a reported double red flag warning that day, meaning the water was closed to the public.

“They were sitting on the beach in lounge chairs until he [Richie Alford] heard a man screaming,” Robert Alford said. “He went to save him but got caught in a riptide and couldn’t get out.”

Richie Alford’s family said they are heartbroken about his death but the way he died is no surprise. They said the 52-year-old had the biggest heart and devoted his life to helping others.

“That’s what he lived for. That was his personality, to help people,” Robert Alford said.

Richie Alford was a firefighter in Banks County for several years before leaving the service about two years ago.

“Richie died doing what he loved, which was helping others in their time of need,” the department shared. “He is a true hero.”

Banks County Fire Battalion Chief Scottie Mathis said he and Richie Alford were like brothers. The two worked together for 18 years.

“He was just a true friend. He was always there when you needed him. You couldn’t ask for a better person,” Mathis said.

After retiring from the fire department, Richie Alford started his own glass business. He also enjoyed hunting, fishing and coaching softball.

Mathis said Richie Alford was loved by so many and that’s how he’ll be remembered.

“Just remember him for the person he was. He would give the shirt off his back to a stranger,” Mathis said.