Steve DeKemper

Sgt. Steve DeKemper, an 18-year veteran of the Ocean City Beach Patrol and a teacher from Indiana, assists with training the rookies during the recent Surf Rescue Academy.

(July 9, 2021) Although people refer to them as lifeguards, the men and women responsible for your safety on the beach of Ocean City, are actually known as surf rescue technicians (SRT).

Surf rescue technician is the certification level obtained by the men and women in the red bathing suits who watch over the beach in the white stands, once they have successfully completed all testing, training and probation.

We encourage beach patrons to introduce themselves to the SRT (lifeguard) and ask about current beach conditions. As you may know, beach conditions may change throughout the day. You never know what you might encounter. So please ask your SRT each day.

Once a rookie has earned the title of surf rescue technician you will hear them referred to as SRT Thomas or SRT Warren.

Although people still refer to our personnel as lifeguards, the term surf rescue technician if far more appropriate due to the job demands, which far exceed a traditional lifeguard.

Each SRT has demonstrated competency in the techniques and skills that are required for open water rescue. Their duties include educating the public, warning swimmers of potential dangers, rescuing distressed swimmers, responding to emergency situations, administering first aid, reuniting lost and found individuals, enforcing city ordinances and most often being the ambassador of Ocean City to our visitors who will approach our SRTs with all types of questions.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol is on duty daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. We start guarding the beach the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (following an annual prayer service) and continue seven days a week through the Sunday after Labor Day, Sunfest weekend (Oct. 3 this year).

The Beach Patrol tests potential SRTs beginning in August each year for the next year’s season (2022). If you or someone you know would like to work for the OCBP as a surf rescue technician, there will be pre-employment physical skills evaluations on Saturday, Aug. 7, 11 and 14, and several additional opportunities both in Ocean City and throughout the region (no experience or certifications required).

Once a candidate passes the physical skills test, they are appointed to a 65-hour, paid Surf Rescue Academy. We are looking for physically able, ambitious and responsible men and women who are 16 years of age or older. They must be 17 by the first date of employment, unless they have successfully completed all 4 levels of the Junior Beach Patrol program.

Many people are surprised to know that we do not require past experience or previous certifications to try out; simply because there is no certification that we feel prepares our candidates to do the job that we require.

Therefore, we test every candidate to assure they have the ability to run in soft sand, swim in ocean water, enter and exit the ocean through the surf, move an unconscious person of 150 pounds, swim for 400 meters, hear and locate a whistle blast from 300 meters, and speak and read the English language.

To demonstrate these abilities each candidate must pass all aspects of an eleven phase Pre-Employment Physical Skills Evaluation, which begins with an English proficiency test, followed by rigorous physical testing elements consisting of different phases in succession that include a 300-meter soft sand run in under 65 seconds, 400-meter ocean swim in less than 10 minutes, simulated rescues in the surf with a rescue buoy, victim removal techniques, run-swim-run medley, tower transport (lifeguard stand), holds and releases (escaping from a panicked victim), and lastly an interview with Beach Patrol, Capt. Butch Arbin.

It is indeed a long day of physical and mental testing.

If you were down at the inlet beach or any of the beaches down south this past week or a couple of weeks ago you might have seen firsthand our rookies in Surf Rescue Academy I or II. Once a candidate completes and passes all phases of the test they are appointed, on a probationary basis, to a Surf Rescue Academy.

Prior to entering academy, (and each year after), each employee must pass a drug test. During academy candidates receive instruction in open water rescues, beach patrol policies and procedures, basic oceanography, use of rescue equipment, first aid, CPR, semaphore communications (a series of signals using flags), radio protocol, and physical training consistent with the demands of the job.

All phases of surf rescue academy must be completed successfully as determined by the Ocean City Beach Patrol Surf Rescue Association to earn SRT rank and assignment to the beach.

Surf rescue academy is an eight-day, 65 hour, paid-training program conducted by beach patrol instructors with support from other public safety agencies, followed by three weeks of supervised, on-the-job probation and a surf rescue academy re-qualifying test where candidates must pass the run and the swim again.

Because of the uniqueness of the job’s demands, the Ocean City Beach Patrol does not accept certification or experience with other agencies. All aspects of becoming an SRT, as well as all certifications such as first aid, Stop the Bleed, CPR and AED are completed during surf rescue academy.

Returning SRTs are drug tested, re-qualified (run and swim) and re-certified each year.

Now that you know what goes into the making of a surf rescue technician, you can feel confident when swimming under their watch.

Our SRTs want to help you remain safe and enjoy your time in Ocean City. Don’t wait until you need help to meet your “lifeguard.”

Make it a point introduce yourself and your family and ask about the current beach conditions. Your lifeguard will also know about the free family activities that are offered in Ocean City. They are happy to answer any questions that you may have.

It’s also a good idea to introduce your children. We want them to feel comfortable if they get lost or have any questions.

We pride ourselves on being the town’s ambassadors; after all, we are glad you are here! To help us keep you safe, always check in with the surf rescue technician on duty and if you hear a SRT blowing their whistle stop what you are doing and look at the SRT.

They may be trying to get your attention because they know or see something that you are unaware of. Most importantly for the safety of you and your family, remember our slogan, “Keep your feet in the sand, until the lifeguard’s in the stand!” This simple tip could save a life – yours or someone you care about!!!

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