Wave Watchers

Spring Break and lifeguard tryouts are just a week away!

Our full-time crew has been tying up all kinds of loose ends to get ready for the big kickoff of the 2022 beach season. They’ve been working hard to get ready for you! Finishing up getting all 600 beach signs we maintain in working order, we’ve also repaired and maintained towers, and many are already on the beach. Our lifeguards have completed crazy amounts of training to make sure they’re ready to respond to emergencies when needed. In addition to savings lives, they are ready to teach returning and new lifeguards what they need to know. All the while, our guards will continue to connect with the community, engage visitors, protect the environment, and help make Galveston a great place to live, work and visit.

Last week guards renewed medical skills, requalified in swimming and rescue techniques, practiced jet ski rescues, trained in handling workplace harassment complaints, equipped themselves with resiliency skills, and completed a big block on leadership. Mostly supervisors, these impressive people set the tone for around120 seasonal guards. A critical part of making sure we provide our staff with a safe, supportive environment, they are also the EMTs, Peace Officers, and back up for guards to handle the bigger emergencies. We put a lot of time and energy into making sure they have all the tools they need to do a really tough job and they appreciate your support.

Last week we talked about the Survivor Support Network. Another program that we’re excited about and hope that many of you will participate in is the “Wave Watcher Program.”

This program is a way for citizens to join our team. A mini lifeguard academy, Wave Watchers is free of charge and will begin in mid-April. Most instruction is virtual with a couple of in-person sessions.

The course will cover Beach Patrol history and operations, general beach safety, first aid and CPR tailored for the beach, tourist ambassador certification (CTA), beach and waterfront municipal ordinances, and Wave Watcher operations. On the final day, we’ll do a site-by-site visit of “hot spots” for water safety and discuss how Wave Watchers integrate into Beach Patrol operations.

There is no physical requirement and Wave Watchers do not make rescues. But upon completion of the academy, they form an important cadre of informed beachgoers who have “the eye. “Our Wave Watchers spot trouble developing and notify first responders to prevent situations from escalating or respond as needed. They do this important work during their normal daily life when members drive, walk, fish, surf, or boat along the beachfront, or during more organized patrols. The level of commitment and involvement will be completely up to the graduates.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the crew, you can find more information on our website at https://galvestonislandbeachpatrol.com/wave-watchers  or sign up at [email protected]

We hope you will join our team and family for a fun way to support a great cause!

Academy and Spring Break Prep

A group of men and women hold onto the pool wall, each in their respective lanes. Some are visibly nervous and already breathing hard. Others are taking deep controlled breaths and look calm, at least on the outside.

“Swimmers take your mark. Go!”

We are on the precipice.

In just two weeks we will hold lifeguard tryouts! At 9am, Saturday, March 12 in the UTMB Fieldhouse swimming pool, prospective lifeguards will swim 500 meters. To make it to the academy, they must complete the swim in 10 minutes or less.

From the pool, the ones that pass will go directly to the Beach Patrol headquarters and drug test, fill out paperwork, and dive right into the academy. Over the nine-day academy candidates will take a high-level Red Cross first aid and CPR course. They will learn and practice open water swimming and rescue techniques in the pool before using and building on these skills in the surf. They will have lessons about Galveston beach and lifesaving history, the way the city and the Park Board operate, and learn about the importance of teamwork. Front-line tourism ambassador training, how to diffuse conflict, how to build cultural competence, and how to become a better leader and follower are all part of the syllabus too.

Throughout the course, a variety of experienced instructors emphasize the importance of important concepts, including the understanding general rescue theory vs. getting mired in details of techniques that may or may not work in a real rescue. They learn about the need for flexibility and independent thinking and the balance between concepts like chain of command and group decision making. We repeatedly emphasize and practice the critical importance of physically and mentally rehearsing how to make a variety of rescues. Rehearsing and visualizing helps first responders to make the basics automatic and it can help them focus and helps reduce “tunnel vision” when first responders are stressed.

During this 90-hour course, our returning lifeguards will be out working Spring Break. Once the candidates course work is near completion, they’ll get to join the more experienced guards and work some busy beach days. There’s nothing more valuable than putting their new skills into practice in real life, under supervision.

We need guards! If you or someone you know is interested in a challenging, rewarding and life-changing job that helps people and allows you to explore your full potential, consider joining the men and women that protect Galveston’s beaches. There is specific information on www.galvestonislandbeachpatrol.com  about the academies we offer and other ways to support Galveston’s designated lifeguard service. Even if you are not one of those people in the pool on Mar 12, we still need everyone’s help and there are many ways to serve your community and “pool” our resources and experiences.

Come by and say hello and get connected to us. Anyone can help save a life by listening to advisories, learning, sharing safe practices and being “water safe.” And always, let us know if we can help. We are here to serve you.

Training

Happy Mardi Gras! When this big annual party rolls around that is a signal for us that beach season is just around the corner. This year, because of increased tourism and great weather, it feels like we never really left. These intermittent cold snaps are the only time the beaches don’t have people on them. Granted, with water in the low to mid 50’s, swimmers are few, but our patrols have moved a surprising number of people from the rocks for it being the “wintertime.” In just a few short weeks we will “Laissez le bon temps rouler” (let the good times roll) again and it will be “summer go time.”

One nice thing the past couple of months is the amount of training we’ve been able to get squared away. Our seasonal lifeguards, of course, have one hundred hours of training just to get going, and train consistently each day to maintain their readiness level. As they move up in the organization, there are more requirements. In fact, professional lifeguards wear so many hats that it feels like we’re always doing some kind of training or another. For some of our staff they’re maintaining an EMT certification, personal rescue watercraft certification, peace officer licensing, or Red Cross instructor accreditation (medical and lifeguarding). They also have certifications in swift water rescue, boat handling and SCUBA. On top of that they do training in leadership, workplace relations, cultural competency, tourist relations and more. I firmly believe that there is a direct correlation between the amount of quality training we can fit into their busy schedules and a high level of competence achieved to better serve the public.

One of the training courses that helps me stay current is Texas Police Chief Leadership training. I’m not always excited to attend and leave the island, but I find it useful, stimulating and re-energizing once I’m actually in the course. Texas has some of the best police training in the country and this course is no exception. I try to always take it in the winter, so I can be here during our busy season.

This year the course was even better than usual. The content was partly what you’d expect with fitness, use of force, legislative updates, employment law and emergent issues in law enforcement training. But there were some surprises such as strategic decision making in ambiguous environments, tools for conflict management and building financial strength in first responder families. There were even some like “training for life” which included meditation techniques, diet information and other strategies to mitigate stress. For a group that has one of the most stressful jobs and lifestyles out there, it really hit home.

There seems to be a groundswell of recognition among public safety, academics, and hopefully the general public that these types of jobs are abnormally stressful and its critical to reduce health and suicide. I’m glad we recognize that now and are preparing our first responders so we can keep supporting our residents and visitors and “let the good times roll” safely together.

Survivor Support Network

With the sun beating down and recovery operation terminated, I scanned the searchers to make sure everyone was OK. I then turned to see, with relief, that a tent had been erected and a family was seated comfortably drinking water and talking to a Jesse Tree councilor who had just arrived following a tragic drowning…

Thinking back over the past decade I have lost count of the times we’ve worked a drowning on one of our beaches along with our public safety partners and had family members of the victim sitting on the beach looking to us for some type of resolution. We’re very good at our primary mission of prevention, rescue, and the operational side of a recovery effort. But we’re just not geared or resourced for providing counseling or religious support. Nor do we have the capacity to beat the bushes for hotels to offer free rooms for families, donations of meals or clothing to help aid a grieving family. In this situation families need someone to help them liaison with public safety groups, consulates and embassies, or a network of emotional and spiritual support in their home communities.

That’s why I’ll always feel a tremendous gratitude to Ted Hanley and David Mitchell of the Jesse Tree for their willingness to take on this emotionally draining, but critical role at a time that is so needed for these families. The team that has joined them through the years is just as compassionate and willing to step forward and do something that makes a real difference. They have done so much for so many and been amazing ambassadors for the spirit of caring and support that permeates so many people here on our island. And now it’s time for us to help them to help more of our guests. In their words:

“Tragedy Strikes when we least expect it. For over a decade the Survivor Support Network has responded with consolation, compassionate care, and common sense to the families and friends of drowning victims on Galveston’s beaches. This dedicated team of volunteers meets their immediate needs, while guiding them to the necessary resources in the aftermath of the tragedy. The team also ministers to the needs of the Beach Patrol staff- many of whom risk their own lives to save others and significantly feel the impact of these events. Without this well-trained team, these incidents would simply not offer the dignity and compassion that a loving community can bring to a tragedy. Please support our effort to keep this team on alert as the summer season approaches. The Jesse Tree invites you to support this worthy work by donating or joining the team.”

For the upcoming season we are doing our best to prepare for what will come. My staff and I are extremely grateful for our partnership with the Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network https://jessetree.net/survivor-support-network  and all they do for us and for people who experience tragedy when they visit our beaches. Nice to have friends with a shared mission!

The Jesse Tree:  Uplifting    Rebuilding    Connecting

Photo courtesy of Galveston News

Flags

We’re just over a month away from beach season, believe it or not. Soon we’ll be putting out all kinds of information about how to stay safe when visiting the beaches. One area that’s important to refamiliarize yourself with is our Flag Warning System (FWS).

The FSW advises beach patrons of the current water conditions and any applicable environmental warnings. The flag colors described below used to help beachgoers understand the current conditions in the always dynamic environment of open water.

On Galveston Island, informational signs and warning flags are posted each day year-round along Seawall Blvd. at flag warning stations. Also, each guarded Lifeguard tower hoists the appropriate flags for the day, and they also are displayed at beach park entrances.

We post flag color, warnings, and other important safety info on our homepage and on multiple social media platforms every day. You can also sign up on our website to receive the notifications via email and/or text message daily.

Here are the different flags we use and some inside background information on them:

Green: Conditions are calm, but swim with care. Remember this doesn’t mean you’re 100% safe. The ocean isn’t a pool or pond so you should always be extra careful even on flat days.

Yellow: Indicates that beachgoers should use caution when entering the water. This flag is flown for normal ocean conditions to remind swimmers to stay alert. It is very important to stay close to shore on yellow days.

Red: Flown when conditions are rough, such as presence of strong wind, strong current or large surf. Adult swimmers should stay in water no more than waist deep and non-swimmers and children should enjoy the water along the surf line. When there is a red flag flying you should assume the presence of very strong rip currents near any type of structure like groins or jetties.

Purple: Indicates potential problems with jellyfish, Portuguese man-o-war, stingrays, or other marine life that could be a hazard for swimmers. Purple flags are used in combination with other flags. Every lifeguard trains before every shift and we are the “Guinea Pigs” to test the waters If we get several stings while swimming, the flags go up. Sometimes a wave of critters comes up midday, so we put the purple flags up when we reach a minimum threshold of the ratio of stings to swimmers.

Orange: Indicates an environmental warning for air and/or water quality. Ask the Lifeguard for more details. Orange pennant flags will be used in combination with other flags. We have a partnership in place with UTMB for air quality warnings and one with the Health District’s Texas Beach Watch Program for water quality warnings. Water quality warnings can be specific to certain places so these flags, when flown, may just be applicable in some areas. We don’t determine when either of these warnings are issued. But we help spread the word by our flag system, or website, or via social media.

Dolphins

For the past couple of years, the idea that we are communal animals has become more and more evident. The pandemic has really shown us how important it is for us to interact in groups. Even the most reclusive person needs that human contact that is such an important part of our essential being.

That cooperative spirit allows us to accomplish incredible things. We are most successful when we work together to accomplish goals. Often in this column we’ve looked at cooperative programs that relate to the beachfront where different people or groups have combined efforts and resources to create an outcome that is much greater than each individual part. Survivor Support Network, Wave Watchers, Galveston Marine Response, all the various groups that protect, clean, maintain, and provide services on the beachfront, are all examples of this concept.

To me, one thing that is especially awe inspiring is when we not only work together to help people, but when people work together to help our fellow animals. Not much demonstrates this concept better than the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

This amazing group of mostly volunteers coordinates rescues of dolphins and whales along the Texas coast. We as lifeguards often have the privilege to work alongside our partners in the Coastal Zone Management department of the Park Board to help save stranded animals, and to manage the care of their bodies when they don’t survive a stranding.

The Marine Mammal Stranding Network is dedicated to the Conservation of Marine Mammals through Rescue and Rehabilitation, Research and Education. The Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network (TMMSN) provides a coordinated response to all marine mammal strandings along the Texas coastline.

Most of what we see in our area are bottle nosed dolphins swimming, playing, eating, and occasionally will wash up on the beach.  From time to time a tourist will mistake their dorsal fins for a shark’s and panic. Normally you don’t see shark fins from shore, but a shark has a triangular fin and dolphins have a curved fin that rakes back. Dolphins are incredibly intelligent with larger brains and more complicated language than we humans possess.  They are even more communal than we are and are usually in small groups called pods swimming so close together that they often graze each other. Using echolocation, they are so aware of each other in the water that they often coordinate their movement to the point where it seems they have one mind. Being air breathing mammals stranding themselves when sick, injured or dying is a way to avoid drowning.

They often come up to their human counterparts who are swimming, surfing, boating, or fishing. It’s a bit unnerving to be in the water and have something so large and powerful come up and stare at you out of an eye that radiates curiosity and intelligence. But I’ve never heard of them injuring a human and there are plenty of stories of them helping us. So maybe the wonderful work of the TMMSN is a small way of paying them back.

 

 

Please visit dolphinrescue.org/rescue for more information.

  • The first thing you can do to help a marine mammal in need of rescue is to call the TMMSN 24 hour hotline at 1-800-9MAMMAL (1-800-962-6625).
  • Dolphins and whales do not usually wash up on our beaches unless they are sick, injured, or orphaned, so it is important NOT to push them back into the water.

Coastal Zone Management

The world is asleep. At 4am the sanitation truck pulls out of the Park Board Coastal Zone Department lot and hits the beachfront, working by headlights along an empty beach.

By the time the traffic starts getting heavy they’re usually gone. At 6 the beach crews head up to the beachfront to hand pick the trash off the beach. They are comprised of full-time staff members, but in the summer months they bring in 15-20 contract laborers a day to augment the normal crews and run two trash trucks. They also go from 5 eight hour shifts a week, to 4 six-hour shifts and two eight-hour shifts. Additionally in the summer they run an afternoon crew on the seawall that tips cans and cleans both sides of the street. Meanwhile the mechanics breathe life into the machines and other workers do projects at “the yard”, and the crew rallies for various special events on and off the beach throughout the year.  During the summer, there’s a night squad that runs the beaches picking up the abandoned canopies that tourists leave behind. The work never ends.

The past couple of years have brought new challenges because of the marked surge in beach use. Previously a trash truck was dumped out every 2-3 days. Now both trucks they run in summer are dumped daily. The sheer tonnage they pick up annually is mind boggling, and now its more than doubled.

These men and women work hard. By the time most of the world is prying the gook out of their eyes and getting that first cup of coffee, they’ve already gotten through half a workday. And they do it in crazy hot, cold, rainy, or sand-blasting windy weather.

Right now, they’re taking advantage of the “slow” time to fix bollards at the beach access points, rejuvenate the recycle bins and port-a-let enclosures, and straightening signage along the beach. They put up the holiday decorations downtown, worked the Dickens and Biker Rally events, and are doing all kinds of smaller projects.

I’ve had the privilege of working alongside a lot of the Coastal Zone Management Department crew for years, and they never cease to amaze me with the pride they take in the job and the amount of work they can muster when the need arises. They’ve had a good thing going there for decades and that translates into efficiency and hard work and clean beaches and money coming into our economy.

At the center of it all is Larry Jackson. Larry is a good manager, great person, and has an interesting past. He spent years making a living from fishing as a commercial fisherman, a guide, and as the host of a fishing show. He even used to have a giant tank that he’d bring around on a gooseneck trailer for special events, business openings, and fishing lessons.

We’re so lucky to have Larry and his incredible crew.  If you’re up early enough tell them how much their labor of love means to the island!

New Boat

As the sun touches the horizon, a stiff wind pushes spray off the peaks, causing them to take on a copper tone. A lone jet ski churns through the choppy water searching for a missing swimmer, as we attempt to locate what may be a missing swimmer, pelican, piece of wood, or a float being pushed out by the offshore wind.

This is a scenario that plays itself out multiple times each year. Often, we don’t have confirmation from anyone on the shore who is missing anyone, no unoccupied vehicles near the scene, and no indication that anyone left articles on the beach before going out for a dip.

The judgement required to make the appropriate decisions about when to continue searching into the night, discontinue the search, or modify the search using different resources is very sophisticated and requires both experience and critical thinking skills. We always err on the side of caution when human lives are potentially at stake, but we also must consider the human and equipment resources at our disposal.

Evening calls are particularly difficult because we rely so heavily on jet skis. Our staff is highly trained on them, and we have them deployed all over the island. They’re powerhouses in surf, have a very shallow draft for the many shallow bay calls, and can be beach launched. But as versatile as they are, by law they can’t run at night. Night calls can be more technical as well, requiring GPS, depth gauge, both running and spotlights, and at times radar. For this we need a proper boat, which requires quite a bit of additional training.

Each rescue truck is driven by a supervisor, who is certified as a “Personal Rescue Watercraft (PRWC) Operator. All our “wet seats”, mostly comprised of Senior Lifeguards, are certified as “PRWC Rescuers”, which means every truck has a jet ski rescue team on board. These could be full time or seasonal employees, although almost all our supervisors work full time.  But because of the training time required to competently operate the boat, only our full-time employees operate our 22-foot rigid hull inflatable boat, which is very similar to the ones the Coast Guard uses. So, in the scenario we opened with, if we needed to continue the search into the night, we’d have to get our boat launched somewhere with a proper boat ramp and get staff on board who were trained in boat operations. Hard to do if it’s a busy summer weekend with several emergencies happening at once.

Recently we purchased a piece of equipment that will help fill this gap. This new watercraft has a rigid hull with inflatable sides and a cut out in the back for a jet ski to fit. Once the jet ski is secure, it becomes the engine. It drives, handles like, and requires the training time of a jet ski. It also has the advantages of a 20-foot boat, while still operating in less than a foot of water.

Adaptable solutions providing for a quick rescue response.

One Beach One Lifeguard

The small 5-year-old, brown skinned, dark haired girl played in the sand with her little sister on the beach. Their fully clothed mother and grandmother laid out a tablecloth and set the china place settings out with well practiced movements. It was a summer day in 1943 at the beach by Murdoch’s Bathhouse.

Barbara, the older of the two, looked off and spotted someone. Smiling, she asked if she could go visit her “friend”. Her mom, Alberta Stevens, said she could but to “hurry back and don’t bother him too much”. She ran as fast as her little 5-year-old legs could carry her up to the lifeguard chair and looked up to the mountain of a man sitting up there. He waved her up smiling. As she started to climb, he reached down and picked her up, tossing her into the air while she giggled. She snuggled into his lap as he kept a watchful eye on the swimmers. It was a calm day with light crowds, and both sat for a while comfortably relaxed.

After a time, she turned to him so he could read her lips and said, “Mr. Colombo, why doesn’t anyone ever help you?”  He made a sweeping gesture with his arm and held up his index finger. “One beach…” little Barbara said, as he then pointed to himself with his thumb and then held up his finger again. “…one lifeguard!” she squealed laughing, as she always did at this game.

Of course, I took a bit of “artistic license” here since it happened way before that little 5-year-old grew up and gave birth to me, but it’s based on stories Mom told me and a popular saying about Colombo that’s been passed down in beach lore. It does, however, exemplify a basic difference in lifeguarding philosophy (and public safety philosophy) that’s changed in relatively recent times.

Back when recreational swimming first became a “craze”, and modern lifeguards who could swim or paddle out to make a rescue came on the scene, the idea was that the rescuer was pretty much on their own. Rightfully so, since they generally worked alone and without realistic possibility of backup. When things go bad in the water it happens quickly, so if help arrives in time it would have to already be on the way before trouble started. In Colombo’s day, those kinds of resources were not a possibility economically or culturally. Someone of his swimming ability was the exception to the norm and that’s partly why he was so special.

The difference between then and now is that the profession has matured to the extent that we look at the whole rescue “chain”. Interdependence of lifesaving staff and between groups of emergency responders is an integral part of our philosophy. Safer for the rescuers and more effective.

It does, however, take a little of the magic away. “All for one and one for all” doesn’t have quite the pizzazz as “One riot, one ranger” or “One beach, one lifeguard”.

Photo courtesy of Signing Savvy
YOUR SIGN LANGUAGE RESOURCE
signingsavvy.com

 

Bikes and Training

Whether you’re hunkering down with the groceries you bought before the crowds descended or out in the mix reveling in one of the largest events of this type anywhere, its hard not to notice its Biker Rally Weekend. I personally am a fan despite the inconvenience when moving around. I grew up riding as a kid on motocross style bikes, and rediscovered road bikes later as an adult. And as a professional people watcher I love all the different subcultures of the biker world out there.  Plus, the biker rally crowd typically don’t spend a lot of time in the water or driving their expensive bikes on the sand itself. We assist EMS and Fire with medical calls and help GPD a bit with the crowds, but it’s not a 4th of July kind of thing.

This week we started reducing our beach coverage somewhat and diverted some of our staff each day to the big job of tower refurbishment and repair. Considering weather and training breaks, this is scheduled to be a two-month job. We’ll also be focusing some training time on our typical operational winter training which includes medical, law enforcement, boat operations, and SCUBA training.

This winter is unique in that we’re going to focus our energy not only on external operational skills, but also internal training. We’re a hybrid organization in so many ways. We’re a public safety group that specializes primarily in ocean rescue and medical response, but also do a fair amount of code enforcement through both our peace officers and non-sworn staff. Most importantly, we have a lot of seasonal workers that aren’t part of the traditional public safety culture, have employees with over 50 years difference in ages, and a good mix of gender and ethnicities. Its critical that all these people work in a supportive environment in relative harmony, so that we can put maximum effort into protecting swimmers and responding to emergencies. And we all need to be able to communicate in a way that is respectful and isn’t misinterpreted. So, we are integrating training in intercultural competency, alcohol awareness, and in a program we started last year targeting resiliency for first responders. We’re also stepping up the training we’ve traditionally provided in leadership, workplace harassment, and other areas, and have formed a diverse committee to monitor culture throughout the organization.

In our lifeguard academy we stress the importance of a strong body, mental preparation through a well-developed and practiced skill set, and strength of spirit. With the first two we’re pretty adept at teaching and enforcing the practice necessary. But, although we allude to the importance of a strong spirit, we didn’t really have the tools to teach it effectively. But this new training will help us teach our staff to better support and take care of themselves and each other, so we can better take care of the public.

And despite our differences, our staff is incredibly united in the desire to be the best we can be to keep people safe.

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