David Baniak is the recipient of the 2022 Award of Valor.
On Nov. 19, 2021, Park Services Specialist David Baniak and Park Ranger Robert Gibbons were conducting a beach patrol at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park when David spotted a paddleboarder roughly 100 yards offshore in the water outside the swimming area. David continued to track the fallen paddleboarder and saw that she seemed to be losing her board to the current.
The paddleboarder, Denise Gasser, waved in distress and called for help. David asked Robert to call for assistance on the radio while David ran into the water and swam out to Gasser, who was still roughly 100 yards from the tide line and struggling in the rip current.
David swam about 25 yards from her, stopped, and yelled out instructions to Gasser to remain calm and to float on her back and swim with the current to him. Another visitor swam out to assist David, who instructed him not to swim any farther due to dangerous rip currents. Gasser continued to keep her head above the water and remained calm until she reached David.
Both David and the visitor assisted the swimmer to the beach. Gasser was exhausted and barely able to walk. An officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission called 911 but Gasser declined medical services. She expressed thanks to David for saving her life.