On Guard

(Sept. 20, 2019) As you take a walk along the beach next week you won’t see the familiar white lifeguard stands.

The beach patrol will officially end the 2019 guarding season this Sunday, Sept. 22.

During our guarding season, surf rescue technicians are in stands and fulfilling all three parts of our mission – education, prevention and intervention – on a daily basis between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

After this Sunfest weekend, the lifeguard stands will be removed quickly from the beach and we will no longer position surf rescue technicians along Ocean City’s beach until May 2020.

At this time of year it is important for people to realize that the beach patrol is off duty and they should not participate in water-related activities until the beach patrol is back on duty next Memorial Day weekend.

We realize that in spite of our warnings a warm sunny day, even in October, will tempt some people to make the very poor decision to venture into the ocean. Please heed our warnings.

The same rip current hazards that exist during our season, when we are making hundreds of rescues (over 2,300 this season), are still present now and could possibly be more treacherous due to tropical storm activity that is typical for this time each year (second week in September is the peak of hurricane season).

The ocean is no less dangerous than it was in late August and September. We have experienced an increase in wave action, surf and water rescues in recent weeks.

This resulted in several rescues since Labor Day for the OCBP pulling people out of rip currents and making rescues under challenging circumstances with stands several blocks apart (half a mile).

Had some of these situations occurred when the beach patrol was not on duty there would have been multiple tragedies and families devastated.

Unfortunately, three years ago during this time of the year, just 90 minutes after the guards had removed everyone from the ocean and left for the day (7 p.m.) a man went out to swim when guards were not on duty.

This turned tragic and his family and everyone involved is still feeling the heartbreak from this easily avoidable tragedy, three years later.

Again, less than 48 hours later a J-1 student worker from Ireland loss his life when he and some friends choose to swim at 6 a.m. after a night out.

Swimming only when and where surf rescue technicians were on duty would have prevented both of these avoidable deaths.

Starting Monday, the stands will be pulled off the beach and lifeguards will no longer report for duty. We will be working to close down from the 2019 season, prepare our equipment for winter storage and begin preparations for the 2020 season.

Even though we no longer have lifeguards on the beach, we will maintain an off-the-beach presence for a few more weeks, through Columbus Day Monday, with our mobil rescue units.

Unfortunately, unless someone calls 911 and lets us know someone is in danger we will not be aware of the need to respond although we may be only a few blocks away.

These mobil rescue units consist of one surf rescue technician (rider) acting as the primary rescue swimmer while the other surf rescue technician (driver) maintains radio communication and backup during an emergency.

Both are qualified as surf rescue technicians and are quad (ATV) certified.

Although Ocean City Fire/EMS are ready and willing to respond to surf rescues, (the OCBP has trained a group of fire/EMS personnel as rescue swimmers), the beach patrol is the agency that is trained and equipped specifically for this mission.

Having these mobile units and surf rescue technicians already prepared for a possible response, effectively reduces the time from the original 911 call to victim contact and will hopefully result in a successful intervention.

But we want to remind you, that even with these public safety personnel available, the time you have to survive if drowning is gambling with your life. It just isn’t worth it.

The OCBP will be in response mode like the paramedics or police. Typically, the nearest mobile rescue unit will respond to the “swimmer in trouble” call, forwarded by a 911 dispatcher.

Having the mobile units prepared makes the OCBP one step closer if someone needs assistance, but still takes valuable time, that the victim may not have.

When a rescue is needed, the rescue swimmer initiates the intervention while the driver who is also a trained rescue swimmer maintains radio contact with the Ocean City Communications Center and acts as backup to the initial rescuer and requests additional resources should the situation require any (EMS, police, Coast Guard, etc.).

Without the mobil rescue units, a call to 911 would be answered in Snow Hill and then be transferred to Ocean City Communications who would then dispatch the nearest available EMS unit and fire department personnel.

Although Ocean City emergency response time is the fastest in the nation, during a drowning situation, where minutes count, this process may take tragically too long.

The beach patrol’s response to this circumstance is to have mobile rescue units already staffed and standing by throughout town as they perform close-down tasks.

It is important however that people not depend on these mobile rescue units as if they are lifeguards protecting their love ones.

Without educating the public and actively preventing potential incidents the beach patrol is unable to fulfill its mission and work in a proactive manner, therefore we are in a reactionary mode and cannot provide the coverage that the public is accustomed to during our regular guarding season.

We have seen too many times when swimming without lifeguards and poor judgment turns into a tragedy with the loss of a life.

Our saying, “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard’s in the stand!” is a friendly reminder of the very serious warning, to only swim when lifeguards are on duty.

The first priority of the Ocean City Beach Patrol continues to be public safety.

Therefore, the beach patrol strongly encourage all beach patrons to restrict any beach or water-related activities to times and locations when and where beach patrol personnel are on duty, never swim alone, always stay with the limits of your swimming ability and never rely on a flotation device in place of your swimming ability.

Since the beach patrol is off duty until May 2020 and we have explained the dangers of swimming unprotected, we do not expect to see you or anyone you care about in the ocean until Memorial Day Weekend when the beach patrol will return to duty protecting you and your family.

If you do see a swimmer in distress do not attempt to go in after them, or you may become an additional victim.

Especially tragic are the number of parents that have died in Ocean City while attempting to rescue their children who they have allowed to swim without lifeguards on duty.

Even our most experienced personnel (20-plus years as an ocean lifeguard) who are now parents, don’t let their children swim in unguarded water, even though they personally have rescued hundreds from the Ocean City surf.

We have seen too many cases where someone has tried to rescue a distressed swimmer and has drowned in the attempt.

Instead, immediately call 911, know the location of the incident, follow the victim along the beach and remain on the scene until rescue personnel arrive and identify yourself to them.

If the person goes under the water before rescuers arrive, it is important to mark the last seen position of the victim with a landmark on the beach to aid the rescues with the search. If the person does manage to rescue themselves, please let the responding personnel know that they are safely on shore.

We at the beach patrol want to thank Ocean City Today for allowing us to have a weekly safety education feature.

The beach patrol’s mission has three focuses: education, prevention and intervention.

Without a doubt the most obvious and the one that attracts the most attention is intervention when one of our guards blows a whistle, jumps off the stand, runs down the beach, and then swims out to rescue a swimmer in distress.

Although this happens several thousand times each season it is not our major focus but rather it is prevention of accidents and injuries through our educational outreach efforts and programs that we make our number one priority.

That is why each week we use this space to try and educate all of the readers of Ocean City Today. I truly believe that through the exposure in this newspaper that many lives have been saved and will continue to be saved because someone has read the article or passed on the information that they learned to others.

So if you have enjoyed this column and have learned any new information about beach or water safety, not only pass it on to others but take the time to thank the editors of Ocean City Today.

Also, if you or someone you know would like begin the greatest adventure of a lifetime as a surf rescue technician with the beach patrol for the 2020 season, visit our website at www.ococean.com/ocbp.

We have our next Pre-Employment Physical Skills Evaluations for positions during the 2020 season, scheduled in March at Salisbury University, University of Maryland and York College before finishing our testing in the Ocean City area.

Have a safe fall and winter and we will see you Memorial Day Saturday 2020 when the beach patrol will return to duty protecting you and your family.

So please don’t let someone you love enter the ocean when the surf rescue technicians are not on duty. It is not only dangerous to them, but may put others in danger if they attempt to help you in an emergency.

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