Saturday afternoon I got a phone call from my friend Mark Porretto. He told me there were two kids close to the rip current on the west side of the Pleasure Pier. He added that they weren’t in immediate danger, but that we should check on them. I immediately radioed our “on call” unit and they were on scene within a couple of minutes. The kids were removed from the water just as they got to the edge of a strong rip current next to the posts.
Mark and I grew upon the beach together. We both surfed. We both rode bikes up and down the seawall in Jr. High and High School. We both worked and spent all of our spare time on the beach and in the water. He has a good lifeguard eye and calls me periodically to let me know when he sees problems developing on the beach. Those calls through the years have resulted in many accidents prevented and, no doubt, several lives saved. When Mark calls I know he knows what he’s talking about and I make sure one of us responds quickly.
Mark isn’t the only one that makes these calls. I have a number of beach people that help by keeping an eye out when they drive down the seawall or visit the beach. And the lifeguards I work with each have their own network that does the same thing. Add all of the people without direct connection to one of our staff who call the Beach Patrol or the city dispatch non-emergency number to let us know when there is some kind of problem on the beach and you have a serious force multiplier. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people out there who help us do the difficult job of keeping millions safe each year.
This year we will be formalizing this process with a new program called “Wave Watchers”. Designed by our very own year-round Supervisor Dain Buck, our goal is to essentially train volunteers to do the same thing that Mark Porretto does. We’ll teach them to identify rip currents and other hazards on the beach, recognize swimmers who are in distress, spot dangerous environmental conditions. They’ll also be trained in CPR, First Aid, and Beach Patrol operational procedures. If they wish they can volunteer on busy weekends to manage first aid and lost child stations and to keep an eye out along the entire beach front.
Keeping all 33 miles of beach safe is more than any one group can do. We are lucky to have partners in the other public safety groups on the island and in the community who help. It definitely takes a village.
Very soon we will be putting out information on how to join our team of Wave Watchers. If you or someone you know is interested, send your contact information to Supervisor Dain Buck at [email protected] and he’ll make sure you get program and registration information as soon as he makes it public.