Clean Beaches

It takes a village to keep our beaches clean.

As Chief of Beach Patrol, I often write this column about our dedicated lifeguards and the volunteers in the Wave Watches and Survivor Support Network, Junior Lifeguards, and community groups that save lives, protect the beach, and raise awareness about water safety.

This week, I was reminded of the big beach cleanup event tomorrow, Saturday 10th, and recalled the front-line guardians, workers, and volunteers that keep our shores clean, green and pristine. While the official stewards of Galveston’s coastal environment are the Park Board’s Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and the Beach Parks Management teams, they are fortified with thousands of resolute volunteers. ​

While sharing the vision of a new environmentally sustainable Beach Patrol headquarters facility last week with our all-volunteer citizen-led Beach Maintenance Advisory Committee, I saw great work being done. This committee, made up of research and science professionals and engaged citizens, are dedicated ambassadors that talk to residents, share best practices, and make recommendations about keeping our beaches clean.  ​

While beach visitation is ramping up, our amazing overnight CZM crews picked up 36 canopies and miscellaneous beach gear items left on the beach overnight in March; last March the crew picked up sixty-two. Last year they collected 477 compared to 1,458 in 2020. Numbers are trending down, and it could be a direct result of the “Leave No Trace” ordinance enacted in 2018. Many people are doing their part by adhering to the ordinance and not abandoning items that often turn into environmental and safety hazards. Our city, the Park Board, and our residents can be proud that their collaboration and direct efforts in confronting the problem is making a big difference. ​Roundtable discussions and townhalls found creative solutions and promoted individual environmental stewardship.​ So keep reminding your friends, family, and visitors to “leave no trace” and never leave anything overnight.

Education and enforcement are finding new ways to diminish trash on the beaches and freeing up CZM crews to focus on other challenges like driftwood on the beaches. The crews relocated wood every day this week and our environmental experts surmise that it’s coming from the Brazos and Colorado Rivers convergence at the Gulf – a result of the storms that hit central Texas in mid-March.

Portuguese Man-O-War have been washing up on the beaches too. The blue balloon-like organisms are easy to spot. While beautiful, nematocysts on their tentacles can still deliver a painful sting when beached so be careful not to touch, especially when cleaning the beaches this weekend.

Hundreds of volunteers will be part of the Clean Galveston Adopt-A-Beach Coastwide Spring Cleanup this Saturday (April 9) and you can register online at https://www.cleangalveston.org to take the opportunity to be part of a great team.

This column is limited to 500 words and I can’t recognize all the great groups that are part of making our beaches so beautiful, but if you know a group that deserves a cheer, make a comment or post at www.visitgalveston.com.

GIBP Headquarter Crisis

39 years ago, I stood in the sand with 16 other lifeguards as radios were issued from our “Headquarters.” I studied the old run-down trailer parked outside a small beach pavilion on the sand and thought, “This is the Headquarters?” In 1983, Hurricane Alicia wiped all that away. The following season, we moved into a brand-new space, which was situated in a large, modern, beach pavilion. The effect of a professional facility sparked a fire which increased coverage, professionalism, partnerships, and outreach, and we eventually became a premier lifesaving force of 140 strong. Thirty years later, we have expanded inside that existing pavilion into a space that was once a night club, but it barely serves our ever-growing operations.

 

Our trusty old workhorse’s time is over. Concrete is spalling from salt air and water, the pilings are brittle, and it has become a hazard. We are eight years beyond the maximum lifespan, and despite Galveston’s harsh climate, we’ve protracted the “expiration date” with willpower and elbow-grease. It’s been a good home and it has permitted us, like our professional counterparts around the world, to best serve the public from the most demanding beach. Your Beach Patrol covers all 32 miles of beach 24/7/365, intervenes in a half-million potential accidents annually, and serves over seven million visitors and residents each year. Galveston boasts one of the busiest, challenging, and most visited shorelines in the nation, and the demand increases every year.

 

Lately, the urgent need for a replacement Beach Patrol headquarters facility has been debated. Ideas of including it in a public/private partnership with Stewart Beach amenities were considered, but the two concepts are completely separate issues. Each effort serves different needs, and each financed independently. It is crucial that something happens soon for the Beach Patrol headquarters, as it increasingly costs more to keep it safe enough to occupy, and lifesaving operations are impacted. This summer our Junior Lifeguard Program, a critical feeder for lifeguard staffing, will operate out of a tent to ensure the campers’ safety.

 

With more than 140 lifeguards and dispatchers, 120 Junior Lifeguards, and another 60+ volunteers, a safe, 24-hour, all-weather sand-base facility is critical for training, working space, and supervision. To mitigate risk for our children and adults, direct access to the beach and water must be accessible without the danger of crossing Seawall Boulevard while carrying rescue equipment. When covering assigned beachfront zones, rescue vehicles need to stay on the beachfront to relay information and deliver lifesaving equipment while continually protecting beach patrons and guards. An on-beach facility is also critical in providing an unobstructed view to handle weather and medical emergencies, lost children, and command and control of our most populated beach.

 

Our Park Board is committed to finding a timely, cost-effective solution to meet the needs of the Beach Patrol because Galveston’s beach patrol is one of the largest, most professional, and in-demand lifeguard services in the world. They need your support because Galveston deserves and demands a first-class, professional facility for its world-renowned patrol to work, train, and deploy from.

 

We urgently need a new home, and the clock is ticking.

 

 

Spring Break and Tri

Here we go! Another beautiful, busy weekend has passed. With no seaweed, perfect water and air temperature, and large well-behaved crowds, it’s no wonder our property values have risen so much! Technically, that should be the last big one of spring break, but I have a feeling that if the weather holds, we’ll be looking at busy weekends until the summer madness kicks in. We’ve been reviewing stats and staffing patterns and the reality has set in that Galveston’s beaches are busier earlier and later than they were just a few years back. Last weekend looked like a weekend in June. Again, our luck held with calm few incidents, even though we were busy with small stuff all weekend. Over Spring Break, we ended up with 5 rescues and a 4,153 actions where we moved people from dangerous areas.

The action is showing no sign of slowing. Sunday, April 3, is the Memorial Hermann 70.3 half Ironman event. We’re working with the Ironman staff, the Galveston Police Department Marine Division and Jamaica Beach Fire Rescue to provide water security. With around 3,000 registered participants it’s going to be a huge event and a big deal for Galveston. We work the watercourse with a modified version of how we guard the beach. Lifeguards work on rescue boards, so they can sit above the water to spot people and have floatation for all the swim assists and rescues we typically make during the event. Other guards work on “jet skis” to cover a zone of several guards and we call them Personal Watercraft Crew (PWC). Lifeguards communicate with PWC crews and each other using a combination of whistles and hand signals, which are the same ones we use on the beach front. The PWC operators have waterproof radio headsets so they can communicate with an “incident commander” on the shore. This capability affords the ability to triage patients in the water and quickly pass information to the incident commander, EMS, and the Ironman workers who know the racers’ numbers and vital patient information. Most of the people rescued are tired swimmers, but we can experience more serious cases that go directly to the EMS crews. At the end of the race, the lifeguards and police divers stay on the water until the Ironman staff confirms that all swimmers have been cleared of the water using the numbers we provide and electronic chips that register racer numbers as they run across a mat at the end of the swim.

Last Saturday, we held our first lifeguard tryouts of the season. The next one is in May. Out of all the applicants, four made it through the tryouts and demanding lifeguard academy. We also had a decent number of returning lifeguards requalify and, for those in leadership roles, go through their annual retraining in rescue techniques, report writing, advanced level CPR, and PWC rescue. The tower guards will renew their CPR qualifications along with those who return in May.

Another season is upon us and we’re all ready for another wild ride!

Warm It Up

Finally! Spring feels like it’s just around the corner. After the long, long winter there’s finally that feeling in the air. The cold is still there but doesn’t seem to penetrate all the way to your bones, and even if it’s cold in the morning you’re able to get by with a thin layer or just a t-shirt by the afternoon.

The water, however, doesn’t yet seem to know that it’s time for winter to relinquish its grasp. When our team works out in the ocean, we’re still wearing full wetsuits and hoods; boots and gloves aren’t necessary. The water temperature hovers at or just below 60 and Saturday was too cold to guard, but since then it’s been needed.

The spring breakers have been undaunted by the chilly water though. When the sun pops out or the wind dies down, they suddenly appear all over the beach. With Stewart Beach temporarily closed, we’re missing the spring sand volleyball tournaments and pickup games, but it will be worth it this summer when the crowds rush the shore. Last year, we had to close the parking lot due to flooding over 20 times. The lifeguards, shivering in their towers, have been moving swimmers away from the jetty rip currents. Fortunately, returning guards re-qualified and along with the full-time staff we’ve been covering a decent amount of towers. It seems like there were many people here on the island hanging out in restaurants, hotels, The Strand, or one of our many tourist attractions waiting for temperatures to warm so they can hit the afternoon beach.

This weekend is the last of main part of Spring Break. Afterwards, on the Seawall, fewer drivers will meander across the lane in front of you with speeds varying between 5-45 mph. No one will pull a U-turn, almost hit you, and then post up by a potential parking space, unashamedly blocking traffic, while 5 people take 20 minutes to load two chairs and a cooler into the back of their vehicle. Enjoy it while it lasts, because soon it will be time to retreat to the “secret” ways of moving around the interior of the island!

This weekend Houston schools, and a handful of colleges, conclude their Spring Break and the weather forecast looks pretty good. We may see those big crowds we’ve been expecting. Working with the Galveston Police Department, we’ve been keeping our eyes out for “pop up crowds” that can appear at a moment’s notice almost anywhere. As soon as the water hits about 65, which shouldn’t be long now, we’ll see a lot of bodies out there in the water. No doubt, it will get really busy really quickly to help keep them from getting in trouble and help set the conditions for a great resident and visitor experience.

The nice thing in our community is that we will soon graduate a small class from our lifeguard academy that can jump in and lend a hand to the more seasoned veterans. And more academies to come.

And so it begins….

Lucero-Walker Rescue

Supervisors Joey Walker and Michael Lucero were working hard patrolling The Seawall last Saturday at 1:20pm when Lucero noticed something unusual in a rip current as they passed the area of 56th street, about midway between the two rock groynes. It was a beautiful day with packed beaches. It was a week from Spring Break and the start date for our seasonal lifeguards.

As they pulled onto the sand, beach patrons alerted them that “a kid was drowning in the water.” Without hesitation, Walker scanned the area and stayed with the radio, in case they needed backup. Lucero grabbed the rescue board and paddled sprinted through the waves to find a “sea noodle” float, about 25 yards from shore, with nobody on it. He scanned the area and spotted something about 25 yards to his east. Worried, he signaled to Walker to call EMS using an open hand and waving his arm over his head, in accordance with procedure. Sprinting across the chop, he found a small boy barely keeping his face above water and struggling for air.

With well-practiced moves, Lucero flipped the board, grabbed the boy’s arms across it, and flipped the board back over which placed the boy safely on top. Lucero climbed up on the board, quickly assessed the child, and observed that he was breathing without problems. Using the lifeguard hand and arm signal for “OK”, he held his arms over his head in an “O” and waited until Joey returned the signal. At that point, there was no apparent need for EMS or another lifeguard to enter the water in support.

Hand and arm signals are essential for communication during emergencies and our Lifeguards use many signals. After paddling to shore, guards began a more thorough assessment and learned that the boy couldn’t swim. Another beach patron then came up and reported that a man was laying along the shoreline nearby. Walker stayed with the boy and Michael ran down the beach to discover the boy’s father laying on the shoreline, breathing. He was lethargic because he’d attempted to rescue his son but got into trouble and came back to shore.

EMS soon arrived, assessed the father and son for water inhalation, and cleared them. The duo refused transport to the hospital and were given instructions about what to watch for if problems developed. They signed the refusal forms in accordance with procedure and went on with their day – Alive!

Michael and Joey dried off, put their equipment back in the patrol truck, and continued patrolling.

This a great of example of one of hundreds of rescues our team make annually, and thankfully it ended well. If you want to make a difference and be part of the Lifeguard team, come try out this Saturday (tomorrow) https://galvestonislandbeachpatrol.com/lifeguard/becoming-a-lifeguard-2-2/ . We can’t do it alone and many thanks go to observant beachgoers who were there to help. If you want to be part of our eyes and ears along the shore, please look at becoming a Wave Watcher https://galvestonislandbeachpatrol.com/wave-watchers  .

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.