Leadership Fridays

Sergeant Andy Moffett and Senior Lifeguard Gheffri Preciado stood in front of the room surveying the small groups of four or five that were having animated discussions as David Mitchel and Iris Guerrero sat off to the side watching intensely. David is our Ecumenical Support and Volunteer Coordinator specialist, and Iris is part of our Wave Watchers and Survivor Support Network Team. She often helps with translation and support for our Colombian guards.  Just as the discussions started to wane Moffett spoke up. “Ok I think you’ve all got some good ideas together. Let’s get each group to give the most important part of the different roles our teams have.”

Team by team they went through the list that included Command Staff, Supervisors/Senior Guards, Lifeguards, and Dispatch. By the time the 10 or so groups were finished, they had covered virtually every component of our operations. I was completely blown away by their comprehensive understanding and support of what people in all parts of our organization do.

For about three years we’ve been working towards a leadership program. Partnering with the Occupational Therapy team from UTMB, our Leadership Committee modified an existing program that was based on a program generated from a Navy Seal team. It’s been a great fit for our staff and incorporates the three key elements of leadership, resiliency, and intercultural competency, emphasizing “extreme ownership.”

Looking at our existing structure and understanding we don’t have much budgetary wiggle room, our team decided to integrate the training into something we already do. Each guard each day has about an hour of training at the beginning of their shifts. They typically go down to the beach and train for about 45 minutes using rescue boards, fins, and rescue tubes. This part is really physical, as it incorporates the elements of making rescues. Then, the last chunk of time is devoted to skills. So, in an average session they may practice repeated rescues using swim fins or rescue boards, then transition to practicing CPR, reviewing hand signals, or review rip current theory.

What our team decided is to turn Friday sessions into “Leadership Fridays.” So, Friday training is now done in our large training room and is mostly devoted to peer guided discussion about how to better guard, better protect yourself physically and psychologically, and to becoming better at seeing the point of view of people in different roles or from different cultures.

This sounds like something that is a good idea on paper but is met with a certain degree of skepticism and cynicism in the real world of teens and young adults. I thought it would take some time to integrate these concepts into our daily lived experience. But I was wrong.

They are all in, and approach it in the same positive and collaborative way they do for the technical side. They dive in just like they do in the ocean, training, or any other way they can pitch in to make us even better at protecting the millions that come to Galveston’s beaches.

Currents and Bottom Memory

If you’ve been on the beach anytime in the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve had day after day of wind running parallel down the beach. And then, occasionally, we’ve had extreme conditions over the weekend. This does some pretty interesting things to the bottom, which affect the safety of people that swim or wade in the water for quite a while.

The bottom within the surf zone has a memory. When current runs it picks up sand and moves it, causing a trench or trough, which is also known in “Galvestonese” as a “hole”. These are found consistently near structures like groins or piers and between the sand bars along the beachfront. These troughs can last hours to days, even after the conditions change significantly.

An example would be when wind blows parallel with the shoreline, causing a “littoral” or “longshore” current. This cuts deeper spots that run parallel to shore, forming our sandbar and trough system. This system is always there, but after a few days of strong current the difference between the sandbars and troughs is more pronounced. Deep troughs can be scoured out pretty close to shore. So, in extreme cases you can find water 5-6 feet deep only 15 yards from shore. Imagine the dangers for small children on these days. To make matters worse, when this is coupled with high surf, water from the waves can be pushed up to the shoreline and will have to find a way back out. If it breaks through a sandbar on the way out, more water follows, and it causes a trench perpendicular to shore that is a conduit for even more water to head back offshore. This causes a type of rip current called a “fixed rip”, which can last several hours.

Another example is that the groins and piers cause the water flowing parallel to head out away from the shore. This causes rip currents which are always there, called “permanent rips”. The deep spots near the rocks caused by all that water flowing out are responsible for water flowing out, maintaining the troughs, and causing danger, even on calm days. Water is lazy. It always seeks the path of least resistance.

A final danger imprinted in the “memory” of the bottom is “inshore holes” formed when larger/stronger waves break close enough to shore that they spill over, cut through the water, and smash into the bottom. These holes can be fairly deep. My daughter was body surfing with me a while ago, and we were laughing because I was up to my neck and she, while standing right next to me, was about waist deep.

As conditions calm, we’ll start seeing more normal bottom conditions after the sand jiggles back into place. For now, be extra careful.

The beach is a dynamic environment. This is why the guards are required to physically get in twice a day to check their area. That way they’re better able to spot trouble before it actually happens.

Grass Fire Drama

The grass fire flames rose higher, radiating fierce heat to anyone within 40 yards. Smoke billowed across the road to where you couldn’t even see the other side. Two figures tangoed around each other, one very large, the other only up to his chin. A car sizzled, engulfed in the flames, and explosions punctuated the sound of the crackling fire. The larger man swung as the smaller one ducked under his arm and quickly moved back, keeping his hands up. For a moment, the potentially deadly dance came dangerously close to the flame, before the two spun away.

Although this sounds like a Bruckheimer film, this was real life and occurred last weekend on Boddecker Drive. For whatever bizarre Texas summertime reason, a car spun out into 12ft tall marsh grass on the side of the road and set the grass ablaze. Bystanders tried to pull the driver from the car, but he apparently refused to exit. Eventually the lumbering man got out, the bystanders retreated, and Galveston Police Department Sergeant Chris McNeil arrived on scene. Sgt. McNeil had been working the Park Board Security Detail at East Beach and went to check out the smoke rising suddenly to the jet blue sky.

While the drama unfolded unknown to those in the park, a Beach Patrol truck blocked the roadway and directed traffic back into the park. Park Board park staff closed the gate and opened the one on the west side to keep exiting traffic from danger. Police quickly dispatched backup for Sgt. McNeil and the Fire Department arrived to fight the growing brush fire.

Suddenly, McNeil made his move and somehow maneuvered the disoriented man to the ground. Somehow the man broke free and they were back up again, circling each other in the smoke and intense heat. Finally, McNeil grappled the man down again and, with the help of two bystanders, held the man down, cuffed him, and were able to move him away from the quickly spreading blaze to the safe zone that had been established. There his police backup and EMS were able to move in, assist, and provide aid to the agitated man

This obviously could have gone a lot of different ways, mostly bad. Sgt. McNeil confidently and unselfishly moved into a complex, unknown, and dangerous situation alone to save someone who was very strong, large, and combative. He was able to restrain the man without hurting him or getting hurt in the process. The Galveston Fire Department’s quick response saved acres of wetlands, countless flora and fauna, property, and potentially, human lives. The Park Board Park Manager Justin Painter and his staff were able to quickly adapt their operations to protect the guests from driving into a volatile situation. And then, once it was handled, everyone went right back to work as if nothing had happened.

The running joke/not joke is “the heat brings craziness.” This time of year, more than ever, I’m glad we have people like Sgt McNeil, who run towards danger to protect those in need.

Rescue Tube Prep

Young men and women stand in a circle on the shoreline. Sandy and sweating, they’ve just finished a surf swim, followed by calisthenics. Each one holds onto their rescue tube awkwardly; a stark contrast with the seasoned confidence that working lifeguards exude. Today is the first day of the lifeguard academy.

The training officer for the Beach Patrol commands the candidates’ attention and lays down the “rules” for how to care for, maintain, and use rescue tubes, or buoys as we call them informally. “Before we talk about how to rescue someone with this piece of equipment, you need to know that it will keep you alive. You should have it with you AT ALL TIMES. This buoy is your best friend, and it WILL save your life each time you make a rescue. You should sleep with it, eat with it, and NEVER be without it during the academy. It should be prepared the same way for each of you, each time it’s used. Without floatation, you are putting yourself at EXTREME RISK and have a good chance of drowning while trying to save someone.”

The Lifeguard Candidates are required to have the rescue tubes with them everywhere they go. If someone is caught without it, they have to do a prescribed number of pushups. To show solidarity and build a sense of teamwork, the entire group joins that person. This tough love not only increases the strength needed to control panicky victims but teaches that a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, so a mistake made by one person has a profound effect on the entire group. Protecting seven million swimmers annually is nothing to take lightly and it can’t be done without a huge amount of teamwork. A lifeguard’s safety is dependent on the guards they work with and vice versa. By the end of their 100-hour course they form strong bonds and are part of the team.

Each guard wraps his/her tube the same way. They wind the rope around one end of it and tuck the strap into the wrapped-up rope with an end sticking out to form a sort of quick release. That way, each rescue tube of each guard is wrapped the same way each time it’s used.

Preparation of the rescue tube is a metaphor for an underlying philosophy for all rescue work. The unexpected will occur during an attempted save. The rescuers have to prepare themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally beforehand. They practice the skills and prepare the equipment. They are rested and clearheaded. Something as small as a tangled buoy rope can be a big deal when adrenaline is flowing, and lives are at stake. If that can be prevented with proper preparation, its one less thing that can go wrong.  If as many variables that could lead to problems are handled beforehand, when the unexpected ones inevitably come up, the rescuer will not be overwhelmed, will deal with it on the fly, and will make the save.

LIFEGUARD TRYOUTS!!!

We are having 2 more Lifeguard tryouts.  Please see below for more information.

 

July 20th, 2022

9:00 a.m.

UTMB Field House Pool

Galveston, TX 77550

 

August 3rd, 2022

9:00 a.m.

UTMB Field House Pool

Galveston, TX 77550

 

Please visit  https://galvestonislandbeachpatrol.com/lifeguard/becoming-a-lifeguard-2-2/    for more requirements.

 

4th Wrap Up

The early morning yellow light angled sideways highlighting a young mother and her two young children giggling and laying in the shallows. A lifeguard raced across the slippery rocks as another dove into the water, both racing to stop a group of teens from getting sucked out by a rip current. A jacked-up pickup spun in the sand and slammed on the brakes, ex-military crew leapt out and almost jumped on an umbrella beach service worker before we diffused it. An older couple sat in the midst of the crowd, leaning into each other with the comfort of life partnership, and watched everyone playing in the sand and sea around them. A tiny girl sobbed as the lifeguard that found her wandering down the beach handed her gently to her mother. Rescuers from 5 different agencies resorted, in the dark, to coordinating the search for a small child that was reported as a drowning on foot during the drone show because the dense crowd made it impossible to get the rescue trucks down on the sand. The sun set as Beach Patrol trucks, with overhead lights flashing, removed every last person from the 9 mile stretch of guarded water before leaving for the day. A group of guards sitting in the tower after work finally relaxed and watched the drone show, while joking with the easy comradery that sharing a tough, fulfilling job together brings.

I once spent a week or so in Calcutta. I walked in long loops. Miles each day. At night I lay in bed looking up at a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and tried to process everything I’d seen. So much life, so many stories, caught in glimpses. I told my brother that there was so much stimulation, and so much I didn’t understand, that I was probably only absorbing 15 percent of what my eyes actually saw. This last weekend was like that. Slow to fast, easy contentment to nail biting stress, and the press of so many radio channels chattering, so many people, so many stories and lives all around for hours and hours each day. I was so impressed with how our lifeguard and dispatch crew kept focused and how they tirelessly powered through.

This was the busiest 4th of July we’ve seen in a long while. Not only were the crowds thick, but until Monday we had some pretty rough water and strong rip currents. We reunited 25 lost kids, effected 101 enforcement actions, 38 medical responses, and made 4 rescues. The 46,025 people moved from danger alone equaled 1/6 of our traditional annual average.

There are no words to express the pride and gratitude I feel for my dispatch and lifeguard staff and our partners with the Galveston County and Houston Precinct 1 CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams), our GPD managed security detail, park staff, Wave Watchers, Survivor Support Network, and Coastal Zone Management. Also, can’t thank Police, Fire, and EMS enough for the extraordinary work they did over the weekend!

HAPPY HOLIDAY!

REMINDER:

  • Always swim near a lifeguard:
    • Lifeguards work continually to identify hazards that might affect you. They can advise you on the safest place to swim, as well as places to avoid. They receive many hours of continuous training and most have been with Galveston Island Beach Patrol for several years.  They want you to have a safe day. Talk to them when you first arrive at the beach and ask them for their advice.
  • Stay Away from Rocks!
    • Rocks present special hazards to swimmers. Piers and Jetties act as the perfect environment for the formation of Rip Currents, which are the number one cause of open water drownings worldwide. For more information on Rip Currents, visit our informational page
  • Four Legged Fur Babies:
    • Sand has been really hot lately.  Be passionate about your pets paws.

More information:

Sand Bars, Troughs, and Holes

Hidden deep spots in the surf are hazardous, especially for small children. Waves are powerful and dig holes in the bottom near shore that may be several yards wide. They can form at any water depth, so you may step into one while wading in very shallow water.

When you visit the beach, you may see swimmers standing in waist-seep water far offshore. What you don’t see is how deep the water is between the beach and the sand bar area they are on.

The natural processes of the Gulf create a series of bars and troughs in the nearshore areas of coastal Texas. The height of the bar and the depth of the trough vary, but the water in the trough is sometimes “over your head”. Unless you swim very well, do not try to reach the sand bar offshore.

Effects of Heat & Sun

Protect yourself against sunburn. You can become sunburned even on cloudy or overcasts days.

Ultraviolet rays are harmful to the skin, regardless of the color of that skin. You should wear a high SPF sunscreen (15 or higher); wear loose fitting light colored clothing, hat & sunglasses. Also, drink plenty of non-alcoholic, caffeine free liquid to prevent dehydration.

Piers and Jetties

The Texas coastline is lined with fishing piers and rock jetties. These present special hazards to swimmers. Barnacles and other sea life tend to make these structures their homes, increasing the possibility for stings, bites, and cuts when swimmers get near them. Piers and Jetties also act as the perfect environment for the formation of Rip Currents, which are the number one cause of open water drownings worldwide. For more information on Rip Currents, visit our ‘informational page’.

Stings, Bites, and Cuts

Stinging jellyfish abound the Gulf waters and randomly sting whatever they touch. The most dangerous stinging jelly is the Portuguese man-o-war, a community of animals called zooids. This most obvious zooid is a purple float with its tentacles dangling in the water. Lifting the tentacle from the skin and dousing the area with a saline solution brings relief. Do not rub the area with sand – this will only ensure that all the stinging cells fire. And remember just because the man-o-war or jellyfish is washed up on the beach does not mean that you are safe. The tentacles can still sting. Avoid stomping them or smacking them with a stick.

Stingrays frequent shallow Gulf waters and can thrust a sharp shaft into an offending foot or ankle when stepped on. This shaft, located at the base of the stingray’s tail must be handled carefully, usually surgically, because the spines point backward and prevent easy removal. One good preventive action is to shuffle your feet while wading. When disturbed, the stingray will move away.

Swimmers, particularly children are advised to wear some type of footwear when in the Gulf or on the beach. Broken glass and sharp shell remnants are everywhere, and children often fail to watch where they are going. Remember there is a high concentration of bacteria on objects in the water and near the beach. Clean even minor wounds well and monitor for signs of infection.

Currents

For any body of open water, currents will always be a danger, presenting a hazard not found in swimming pools or waterparks.

The Long Shore Current (also known as the Littoral Current)’s strength and direction are generally determined by wave and wind energy. Look for the Long Shore Current by the angle of the waves coming into shore, by the foam, swimmers and surfers flowing parallel to shore with the Long Shore Current. Always be aware of your surroundings and your position in the water relative to your location on the beach. The Long Shore Current can push swimmers far down the beach, and towards hazards such as piers and rock jetties.

The Long Shore Current can also influence and help create Rip Currents, which present a very deadly danger to swimmers. Be sure to avoid swimming or wading near rock jetties and piers, as Rip Currents often form next to them.  See our ‘Rip Currents’ page for more information.

Always adhere to warning signs.

4th of July Tips

We’re here! The big Fourth of July weekend. It’s hard to believe how fast summer flies, especially when it’s as busy as it is here in Galveston. This summer has already been intense with tons of people and very rough water. The storm system is clearing out just in time for a gorgeous weekend. The one thing we’re preparing for is the potential for wind, waves, and rip currents. If you compound that with all the normal issues big crowds bring, we could see a very busy weekend. Adding to that, there will be fireworks at Moody Gardens, the Seawall Parade, and the all-new futuristic drone show. www.Visitgalveston.com  has all the dates and details.

For the big weekend, there are a few simple safety tips that can keep you and yours safe. Of course, swimming near a lifeguard and avoiding rip currents are the big ones. Rips in Texas predominantly occur near a structure like a jetty or pier. They create holes or trenches underwater. Although they don’t pull you under, they do pull you out and can cause exhaustion, panic, and drowning fatalities. Obey all warning signs and instructions from a lifeguard to be safe. Also, pick a stationary point as a reference, so you don’t accidently drift into a problem area. If accidently caught in a current, stay calm, float, and go with the flow. Call or wave for help if possible. If you’re a good swimmer, try swimming parallel to shore until out of the current, and then back to the sand. If you see someone in a rip, don’t go in after them. Instead throw a floating object or line to them, like the ring buoys in the rescue boxes on each jetty.

Be sure and swim near a lifeguard. Ours are amazing, and while you are responsible for your own safety, they can provide an added layer of safety. They can also help with first aids, lost kids or virtually any type of beach emergency. It also helps to swim with a buddy, obey warning signs and flags, designate a “Water Watcher”, and avoid diving in headfirst. A huge thing to remember is not to enter the water at either end of the island. The Ship Channel and the San Luis Pass have dangerous tidal currents and it’s illegal to swim there. Also, don’t forget to wear that lifejacket if you’re boating or are either a non-swimmer or a child.

It’s been hot! Hydrate with non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages, wear protective clothing, use sunscreen with a high SPF, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Speaking of protecting your eyes, it’s a good idea to steer clear from shooting off your own fireworks. Beside the fact that it’s against the law, they mess up the beach, are a major fire hazard, and can cause problems for wildlife.

Above all, know your limits and don’t check your brain at the causeway. Enjoy your vacation on our beautiful island and have fun!

Sicilio Adventures

Supervisor Matt Sicilio was patrolling the stretch between Stewart and East Beach last weekend when he was dispatched to check on a woman with burns on her feet. When he arrived, he realized that she had serious burns on her foot soles because her shoes had come off in the middle of some deep, dry sunbeaten sand on her way to the moist, cooler sand. This heatwave and sun rays are no joke. We’ve been called to several heat exhaustion cases and a couple of burned feet situations in the past week alone. And this is June!

Burns to extremities can be a big deal, so she needed to go to the hospital. Normally this would be a pretty straightforward thing, but its easy for things to get complicated on the beach. Because of the dry, fluffy sand, much of the beach is inaccessible unless you have 4WD, and even then, you have to know how to drive in these conditions. That means no EMS or Fire can come to the scene, so Matt had to coordinate with EMS with an improvised plan. They walked through a hotel lobby out to the beach and met him. Then together they packaged her and drove her in the back of the lifeguard truck a mile down the beach and around to the parking lot of the hotel to load her in the ambulance.

Matt has been a supervisor for a fairly short time, and he’s already shown that he’s a natural fit who can figure out how to improvise and adapt to most situations. In fact, later the same day he was tested again.

Another call came in that afternoon about a stranded jet ski on the west end. The craft was so far offshore that it was impossible to spot. Fortunately, the operator had a fully charged cell. Matt and his partner were able to talk with them directly and told them how to pull their GPS coordinates off the phone. Then Matt was able to plug them into an app he has on his phone and navigate over 5 miles from shore to locate them where they were tied off to an offshore platform. The two men were making the most of “their time at sea” fishing while waiting for help to arrive. The US Coast Guard ended bringing the two men aboard and towing the jet ski all the way to the Coast Guard base some 20 miles away. All told, Matt and his partner were out of their patrol zone for a little over two hours. This is a lot for us on a busy weekend, as it leaves coverage thin, but before cell phones the same thing could have taken hours or even days. Technology definitely saves lives.

Many of these potentially serious emergencies can be avoided by basic preparation. Having the right gear, making a plan, and making sure you have shared your intentions can make a huge difference in getting home safe.

Opening Lifesaving Minds

The crew has been holding up well, although they’re taking a beating.  Brutal heat and persistent west wind make for hot, gritty conditions that are an assault on the senses, particularly for guards who are working long shifts in the towers day after day. Guards in trucks and towers are moving thousands of swimmers away from some serious rip currents by structures like piers and jetties. There have also been a number of significant rip currents appearing in the middle of the beach, which have kept Galveston’s guards working double-time.

Persistent wind means persistent lateral currents that run parallel to the shoreline. These, in turn, scour deep troughs, some of which are very close to shore. Additionally fat, powerful rip currents near structures take sand with them, leaving deep channels near the structure which in turn perpetuates stronger rip currents. A few days of semi-calm conditions can break this cycle and allow for the bottom to level out, but over a month of continuous wind hasn’t allowed for that.

Last weekend, we had our mid-season all staff open water swim race. The whole crew met at 7:30 a.m. for a staff picture followed by the swim. The water was rough and there was a lot of current, which makes for great training. Also, it was a great chance for our seasoned guards to show off their skills and beat some of the newer, sometimes faster, swimmers. We have new employees that are amazing swimmers but get beat in our training races by slower, but more experienced, guards. Once these new rookies get the hang of using these “tricks” they often come out on top. This time a big pack of people overcorrected for the current and missed the buoy, swimming past it. Some of our best swimmers were in this pack and finished behind some of the guards that were more strategic and “picked a better line”, meaning they used the current to the maximum advantage.

We also incorporate a lot of entries and exits from the water. Repetition is a proven way to get the guards to internalize the theory that they learn in the academy and in our daily skill training sessions so it’s automatic when making a rescue in stressful conditions

We use races as a means to improve and hone ocean swimming and paddling skills. Some people are naturally more intuitive than others in this respect, but there is a learned component when it comes to using current and waves instead of fighting against them.

For the complete mind/body/ rescue techniques tripod of lifeguarding, the final ingredient involves remaining centered under stress, opening your mind, and seeing a few moves ahead. Some have an innate predisposition for this, but experience helps. It’s critical for ocean rescue and for preventing accidents. In many ways this ability is more important than physical conditioning or technique when racing or rescuing. It separates a good lifeguard from a great one.

And it can mean the difference between life and death.