OC’s public safety people handle more of everything during holiday weekend

(July 10, 2020) Water rescues, arrests and firework violations were up this Fourth of July weekend, according to the Ocean City Beach Patrol, Police Department, Fire Marshal’s office and Maryland Natural Resources Police. 

The Beach Patrol, which has more than 200 members and 91 stands on the beach, had roughly 140-145 lifeguards on the beach Fourth of July weekend. 

Lifeguards conducted 346 rescues last Thursday, 216 on Friday, 89 on Saturday and 66 on Sunday. 

Furthermore, lifeguards were proactive over the weekend, completing 6,033 preventative actions on Thursday, 4,295 on Friday, 8,809 on Saturday and 4,178 on Sunday. 

This year’s saves outnumbered those of last July 4 weekend, although Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin stressed that rescues do not reflect crowd sizes, but rather water and weather conditions. 

Additionally, Arbin said the number of saves does not correlate to the severity of the incident. 

“A lot of these are not life-or-death saves,” he said. 

Local police also had their hands full, after responding to 1,300 officer calls for service and 799 citizen calls for service. 

City ordinance violations, traffic stops, parking complaints/violations, alcohol violations and disorderly conducts led police-initiated activity, while citizen calls involved disorderly conduct, city ordinance violations, parking complaints, noise complaints and welfare checks. 

Police made 84 arrests this past weekend — compared to 49 in 2019 — including nine for drug-related offenses, three for impaired driving and four for weapons-related offenses. 

The top five charges were disorderly conduct, second-degree assault, open container, resisting arrest, drug possession (not cannabis) and interfering with arrest. 

Police also assisted the fire marshal’s office with 168 calls about fireworks violations, fire marshal’s office spokesman Ryan Whittington said. 

All fireworks are illegal in the resort, and guests, as well as residents, may only use handheld sparklers, ash-producing pellets (snakes), wrapped paper snappers and paper caps. 

The reason being, “Thousands of people every year are injured and property is damaged,” Whittington said.

Two people were injured this year, one seriously, he said. 

In preparation for the weekend, the fire marshal’s office and fire department pushed out a safety campaign, using the large screen at the Ocean City convention center on 40th Street to remind guests the explosives were off limits, and by posting educational flyers in various condominiums. 

Nevertheless, illegal fireworks usage seemed to be rampant this year. 

“If you talk to folks, they will tell you that this year seemed to [have] more fireworks,” Whittington said. 

However, he said that could have been a result of the postponement of the city’s annual fireworks display. 

“That could be a perception thing, because a lot of times folks are busy paying attention to the actual show … where this year folks just saw a lot of fireworks on the beach and on the bayside area,” he said. 

Out in the water, Maryland Natural Resources Police assisted with 12 boating accidents, according to public information officer Lauren Moses. 

Several injuries occurred, some minor, but others requiring further treatment — a juvenile was transported to Baltimore Shock Trauma after being struck by a boat propeller and two patients taken to medical treatment centers, one for leg lacerations the other for knee injuries.  

Back on the sand, Arbin said visitors were very well spread out, as evidenced by how patrol ATV’s had difficulty navigating the coastline. 

“Typically people would be pushed close to the water’s edge,” he said. “Now, people are so spread out they’re all the way back to the dune, and there’s even people out there with posts in the ground and caution tape and a circle around them. Some people are taking it very seriously.” 

In light of covid-19, the Beach Patrol has also taken measures to mitigate the risks and spread of the virus among its ranks and guests — particularly after reports of swelling cases in nearby Delaware, including among lifeguards. 

Daily wellness checks are conducted, and lifeguards have been issued N95 masks, and supervisors have face shields, gowns and other personal protection equipment (PPE), in addition to the CPR masks, gloves and eye protection they’re always issued. 

Activities, such as the annual crew photo, are being adjusted to minimize gathering sizes and contact between each guard. 

“I audit it [wellness check] every day to make sure they’ve done it before they come to work, and if they don’t … we go find the guard and say, ‘what’s the deal, why didn’t you do it’ and we [penalize them] if they’re a repeat offender, because we’re serious about the wellness check,” he said. 

Any lifeguard who fails the wellness check or reports symptoms is not allowed to work and must stay at home until symptoms are gone. 

Several local beach patrollers have been tested for covid-19, but only one has tested positive and was immediately quarantined, Arbin said. 

The Worcester County Health Department is in charge of contact tracing operations.  “One of the differences there [Delaware] is that they sit two per stand,” Arbin said. “In our case, our guards are not supposed to be two in a stand.”  

Additionally, Arbin said cases in Delaware have been traced to the lifeguards’ off-duty activities. 

“I just told the guards in our meeting Monday that they are less likely to be exposed doing their jobs on the beach, than they are once they got off in the evenings,” he said.

Arbin said he’s been repeating this message to his team to encourage them to use good judgment and avoid risky scenarios. 

While the Beach Patrol is taking extra precaution to protect its members and visitors, Arbin stressed that guests must adhere to beach rules to limit the number of times a lifeguard must leave his or her stand. 

And as always, guests are reminded to, “Keep your feet in the sand until a lifeguard’s in the stand.”

Josh covers everything Ocean City government and crime. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 2019 with a B.A. in French and Journalism.

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