The day began with a dip into the cool Atlantic waters along the New Jersey shore near Avon-by-the-Sea.
Mark Batista, a father of three and a veteran member of the New York Fire Department, brought his family to the beach on Friday morning, when the salty ocean air fell just shy of 70 degrees. Soon after, his daughter made a beeline toward the waves, splashing as she waded deeper into the dark blue.
Suddenly, a deadly rip current emerged. The narrow, fast-moving stream swept her farther and farther away from the shore.
Mr. Batista rushed in to rescue her, friends and authorities said. But the ocean, in all its cruelty, pulled him under.
Mr. Batista, 39, a longtime firefighter and emergency medical technician, drowned, according to Jim Long, a spokesman for the Fire Department.
He was taken to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. His daughter, whose name and age have not been released, survived.
Their relationship was described in a social media post a few months before Mr. Batista’s death. “I can’t promise to be here the rest of your life,” he wrote in October on Instagram along with a photo of his smiling daughter, her arms wrapped around his neck. “But what I can promise is to love you for the rest of mine.”
Mr. Batista’s drowning was the second along the nearly 130-mile New Jersey coastline this year, according to preliminary data from the National Weather Service. The other victim was a 15-year-old boy who died over Memorial Day weekend at Sandy Hook Beach. He was also pulled out to sea by a rip current.
In both cases, no lifeguards were on duty where the drownings occurred, according to the data and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.
Lifeguards at Avon-by-the-Sea will begin to work full time on Saturday, according to the community’s website. On Friday, after Mr. Batista’s death, the sheriff’s office issued a statement on Facebook warning “all to please not to go in the water when there are no lifeguards on duty.”
Mr. Batista first joined the New York Fire Department Emergency Medical Services in 2008. He spent about five years as an emergency medical technician before becoming a firefighter, Mr. Long said. He was most recently assigned to Engine Company 226 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.
“We are heartbroken to learn about the death of Firefighter Mark Batista,” Mr. Long said in a statement.
“Firefighter Batista was a dedicated public servant who spent 15 years serving in the FDNY,” he added. “We join his family in mourning his tragic passing.”
Mr. Batista’s body was transferred on Sunday from the Middlesex County Medical Examiner to Vander Plaat Colonial Home in Fair Lawn, N.J., according a memo obtained by The New York Times that was sent to Fire Department firefighters and emergency service workers.
Mr. Batista’s wife, Lenin Batista, posted a message to friends and family on Instagram. “I feel lost, heartbroken and very afraid,” she wrote in Spanish.
On Sunday morning, Janelle Rivera, a veteran emergency service technician and Mr. Batista’s longtime friend, had not yet heard about his drowning, she said later.
As she sat down to drink her coffee, she picked up her phone and saw she had dozens of unread messages. She opened one and saw a photo of Mr. Batista along with a picture of a purple and black striped flag. They were the colors of the mourning bunting, a pleated fabric drape that hangs over a firehouse to signify the death of a member.
Ms. Rivera was stunned.
She thought of how she met Mr. Batista when he worked at E.M.S. Station 45 in Queens. She remembered the near-fatal motorcycle accident Mr. Batista was in, just a few years ago, the one that made him rethink how he spent his time in the world. She thought of how he often took his family to the shore because his daughter loved the ocean.
Ms. Rivera also recalled running into Mr. Batista about a month ago at Fire Department headquarters in Brooklyn. He was driving his prized white Porsche.
On that day, Mr. Batista talked about his wife as he always did. “Every second of every day, he made sure his wife knew how much he cherished and valued her. And that meant so much to me, knowing someone in the world like that exists,” Ms. Rivera said. “Anytime I had a bad day, I could just look upon him to give me hope that it’s possible to be loved that way.”
“That his wife had to watch him go into that water and not come out, it kills me,” she added. “The life of his daughter is the result of his heroism, and that is everything a wife and mother could ever ask for.”
Chelsia Rose Marcius covers breaking news and criminal justice for the Metro desk, with a focus on the New York City Police Department.