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Roundtable

Roundtable

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Beauty and the Beach

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Paradise Found

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A Miami tour by land and by sea.

Insider Profiles

'Danger Coast' Firefighter Keeps Miami Safe

Nick DiGiacomo"You can go out and have a good time without spending a lot of money. You can go out to Miami Beach and put on a snorkel and go out 100 yards and you're on a reef."


When Nick DiGiacomo was growing up in South Florida, he loved water sports. He swam, fished, surfed, scuba dived, drove a boat and worked as a lifeguard.

Now he uses those skills as a member of Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue's Special Operations division, charged with putting out boat fires, rescuing boaters in trouble, conducting medical evacuations from cruise ships, and responding to reports of bites by poisonous snakes.

It's not the sort of firefighting job you could have just anywhere.

DiGiacomo is assigned to a fire rescue boat, which fights boat fires, provides emergency medical services to boaters, and is sometimes called upon to extricate whales and porpoises from fishing lines. "You call, we haul," he jokes. His division was the subject of a TV reality show called "Danger Coast."

DiGiacomo, 32, is from a family that has dedicated itself to public service. His father is retired from the fire department, and his brother is a police officer. Two uncles are retired firefighters, and his father-in-law and brother-in-law are firefighters. His mother is a teacher.

Two years ago, DiGiacomo displayed his skills and bravery when he helped rescue two teenagers from a burning boat off Miami Beach, a feat for which he received several national awards. The young man and woman were trapped by smoke and flames in a bathroom, their faces up against a porthole to breathe.

With the help of a charter boat crew, he and other firefighters were able to use a saw to cut a hole large enough to free the teens, but he had to give them his air pack so they could survive long enough for firefighters to pull them to safety.

"It really was a win," DiGiacomo says. "By all statistics, they should have been dead 10 times over."

DiGiacomo and his wife, Danielle, live in a suburban area called Kendall, west of Miami. He has lived in Kendall all his life, except for the four years he spent at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Kendall is great, he says, because it is less frenetic than downtown or South Beach, but still has stores, restaurants and amenities.

For dining and nightlife, he likes Shorty's Bar-B-Q ("Real rustic, kind of down and dirty, but it's great food"), which is near Kendall, as well as Tobacco Road, Miami's oldest bar, near downtown.

Kendall is a popular area with families, who like the schools and parks, as well as the affordable homes. "It's close enough to the water to get to it, but not so close you can't afford it," DiGiacomo says. "And you still have a yard to play with your dogs in."

He no longer fishes or dives for lobster. "I'm more of a preservationist," he says. "I like to look but not touch." He and his wife are avid recreational scuba divers and lately have been going cave diving in central Florida.

He likes to visit the Everglades Outpost, a haven for exotic animals that have turned up in South Florida and have nowhere else to go. The outpost also rehabilitates injured South Florida animals.

It's a myth that Miami is only good for partying, says DiGiacomo, or that fun here has to be expensive. Natural areas abound, such as the Everglades, Matheson Hammock Park, the Deering Estate and, of course, the beach and ocean.

"You can go out and have a good time without spending a lot of money," he says. "You can go out to Miami Beach and put on a snorkel and go out 100 yards and you're on a reef."

Check out Nick's Miami.