Terrible Tuesday, Winter Activities and Marketing

After the first 5 minutes of swimming, we still felt like our faces were going to fall off.

On the initial immersion, we felt as if we couldn’t breathe at all. We had to force ourselves to put our heads down in the water and relax enough to swim. Every time we opened our mouths to breathe the water felt like a freezing cold water fountain. Those with cavities definitely felt it!

By the time we finished the first lap, our bodies were starting to adjust. Hands, feet, and faces became numb and the pain receded to a dull ache. By the end of the next lap, done on rescue boards, our core temperature was smoking hot and generating enough extra heat to make it much less of an ordeal to enter for the third lap, which was another swim.

After six laps, three swims and three paddles, and 9 runs we had averaged about an hour and 20 minutes of training. Enough to know that your body will adapt to water in the low 50’s or high 40’s. We do this workout, dubbed the “Terrible Tuesday”, once a week during the winter months. Enough to not become afraid or distracted or disoriented when you have to jump in for a rescue.

Training like this during the winter is a welcome break from the frenzy of activity at the Beach Patrol leading up to the next season. Looking back over the past 3 months we’ve replaced all the downed or damaged signs on the beach, done a lengthy employee review,  rebuilt all of our 26 lifeguard towers, ordered all vehicles and supplies, updated or training and policy manuals, trained and recertified staff members, revised our employee evaluation process, created an annual workflow calendar, revised our website, attended job fairs and other recruiting events, and helped in the design process of the new Tourist Ambassador Training program the Park Board has been creating. We’ve also researched and ordered almost all of our supplies for the year including vehicles, medical supplies, uniforms, rescue equipment, etc.

The nice thing about having the time to concentrate on all these internal projects is that once the beach crowd arrives we can focus almost completely on that. We have our hands so full in the “season” hiring, re-training, and supervising our 110 or so seasonal employees that it feels like there’s not room for much else. With 5-7 million visiting the beaches and so many seasonal workers it makes sense that we’d be stressed and running around like crazy to get ready for the coming storm!

With more tourists coming more of the year, and a focus on increasing tourism during the “shoulder seasons”, we are working to solidify our infrastructure and be prepared to expand to more of a year round operation if needed. As tourism becomes more and more important to our economy and livelihood, the best marketing we can possibly do is to make sure they feel safe and that the beaches and island are attractive.



Platform Fire

The 911 dispatcher came up on the Beach Patrol main channel last Monday evening with a request from the Galveston Fire Department to help with a fire on an oil platform fire on Pelican Island.

Three of our full time superstars responded, all of whom are surf guards, EMTs, and peace officers. As per our protocol Josh Hale went directly to the scene of the fire to assess what was needed from our end and to join the unified command. Kris Pompa and Austin Kirwin brought our rescue boat from Stewart Beach to the Yacht Basin, launched, and drove quickly to Pelican Island.

When Kris and Austin got there they realized that the Fire Department had a pretty intense situation going on. The fire was in one of the legs of an old oil platform that was dry docked. The fire fighters had been shuttled out to a barge. A crane lifted two of the fire fighters 50-60 feet up in the air so they could shoot water down into the leg.

The Battalion Chief called us in case one of the fire fighters fell in the water. Falling in the water from such a high place could be a big deal, but doing it in full bunker gear could be disastrous.

Fortunately, everything turned out fine. Our team’s role of sitting and watching was uneventful. The fire department put out the fire without any one getting hurt and without significant loss of property. Our guys got back to headquarters with even more respect for the amazing job our fire department does than they already had. For us watching how they handled it so smoothly was a real privilege. For them it was another day at the office. As the Battalion Chief put it, “If there weren’t accidents, none of us would have jobs.”

Situations where the different response agencies in Galveston smoothly help each other have become more and more common, thanks to the formation of the Galveston Marine Response group. Galveston Fire, Police, and Beach Patrol routinely assist each other, along with the Sheriff Office Marine Division, Jamaica Beach Fire Rescue, State Park Rangers, Schlitterbahn Lifeguards, and the Jesse Tree. When Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas asked us to come up with a cohesive response group for major disasters we didn’t realize how in the process we would drastically improve our response to localized events. Enhanced communication, joint training, and shared resources are common occurrences which is better for everyone, especially the public who depends on us.

The nice thing about this particular incident is that it was a good chance return all the favors we receive from the Galveston Fire Department on the beach each year. When those 6 million people hit the island’s beaches, no one group can handle it alone. We’re really thankful for all the good work Fire, Police, and EMS does each year and all the help they give us on the beach. Nice have the opportunity to repay them how and when we can.


Last Monday night around 7pm a 911 call came through the city dispatch of someone jumping off of the causeway. We responded along with the Fire, Police, and EMS. Josh Hale joined the “unified command” on top of the causeway while Kara Harrison and Kris Pompa launched our boat and searched under the bridge with spotlights and sonar. Fortunately it was a false alarm.

People attempting suicide by jumping off of the causeway or swimming out into the ocean are not uncommon and we work several of these cases each year. People that are in this type of mental state are, obviously, not thinking rationally. But there is often this sort of romanticized version of ending your life in the ocean. The ocean brings many of us peace. I assume this must be in the back of peoples’ minds when they start driving south on I-45. Or maybe we’re just at the end of the road.

Dealing with people who are in an unstable state of mind is very dangerous for emergency responders. Add water and that danger increases exponentially. It’s an easy thing for a would-be rescuer to drown because they were incapacitated by a blow to the neck or elsewhere. Peace officers can’t use their normal tools of the trade while submerged. For that reason we take these calls seriously and try to take precautions like approaching in a group or not entering the water unless it’s a truly life threatening emergency.

That said, a large percentage of these cases change their minds pretty quickly when they hit the water which changes the situation into a potential rescue.

A huge factor in winter rescue work is that of potential hypothermia. Web MD defines hypothermia as “…a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature, usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.” Medically speaking, hypothermia starts when your core temperature drops below 95 and is defined as “severe” at or below 86. The reason it’s such an issue for us is because people can become disoriented and make bad choices pretty early on in the process.

The year round Beach Patrol staff is equipped with wetsuits and train regularly in cold water. We don’t want to become victims ourselves. We know our limits and make sure we are prepared when we enter the water. Most people don’t. Hypothermia occurs even in mild conditions. We often see mild hypothermia in the summer. Basically it’s just a matter of how much heat escapes your body and how rapidly. Factors that affect when an individual will become hypothermic are a person’s age, body mass, body fat, overall health, and length of time exposed to cold temperatures. About 90% of heat loss is from your skin and the rest occurs when you exhale. Water greatly accelerates the process.

No matter the time of year it’s important that you self-monitor. If you start to shiver, that’s your body trying to maintain its core temp.

Time to make a good choice. Warm up and dry off!


*Image courtesy of the 9th Coast Guard District’s Blog