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Brian Kyle Letter

Brian Kyle, who is the Lead Meteorologist for our local weather office, wrote the following:

Whistles were going nuts on the beach. Initially, I didn’t think much of it. I figured it was the Galveston Island Beach Patrol directing unknowing swimmers away from one of the many rock groins where deadly rip currents are frequently located.

But something was different on that afternoon. I was pushing my daughter into waves on her surfboard that day. The whistles kept going. And going. And going.

I glanced toward the beach and saw people pointing to the horizon. Near the end of the groin a 3-4 year old boy was thrashing & panicking as he was caught in a rip current. I pushed my daughter in on a wave and I swim over to help. As I got there the lifeguard was already arriving! The boy’s panicking mother nearby as well! The guard rescued the boy. I took off my rashguard and handed one end to the mother.

There are several things that stand out to me. First, I thought about how well trained, fit, and proactive the lifeguards are. They love what they do and are humble. (I’ve been told by multiple career lifeguards about rarely being thanked for saving lives!). I also think about the training I’ve learned from them – don’t become a victim yourself by trying to save someone – hence giving the woman my shirt instead of my hand.

Another thing is we both kind of knew this type of scenario would have a pretty good chance of happening that weekend. I work for the National Weather Service. Our office had been watching computer models indicating the potential for nice, warm weather but probably also above normal waves. Peter Davis and his crew at Galveston Island Beach Patrol knew that combination would be cause for concern. They knew favorable weekend weather early in the beach season would draw large crowds. But they also knew many visitors would be unprepared for the surf.

The Galveston Island Beach Patrol has served as an exceptional partner to the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service Forecast Office since the 1990’s. During this time period, the lifeguards have served as hazardous weather observers and have reported timely beach conditions and rip current information to our weather forecast office on a routine basis (now daily).

This has made our job easier as coordinated information, statements, warnings from both agencies have played a critical role to the mission of safeguarding and protecting the lives of the five to seven million patrons that visit beaches along the upper Texas coast each year.

In addition, under the leadership of Chief Peter Davis, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol contributions have played key roles to the NWS research community, and have also helped shape the local and national rip current and lightning awareness programs.

In recognition for the exceptional service and contributions they provide, both locally and nationally, the National Weather Service presented Galveston Island Beach Patrol a Special Service Award on September 22nd for their much appreciated efforts!

Thank You SSN Groups

Sometimes it seems like we all scurry about for most of our lives. The politics, games, gluttony, maneuvering, manipulation and acquisition of things is a fantastic distraction. If not careful we can get so caught up that it completely disconnects us from what really matters.

There are times in all of our lives when critical things happen. Birth and death, tragedy and events that cause intense joy give us an opportunity to touch something real. One of the most important things we can tap into is the opportunity to be present and supportive when others are going through these critical junctures in their lives. There’s always a reason that we can’t be there, always something that seems more critical. But if we take a moment to weigh the options there are few things that truly take precedence in the big picture. Unfortunately, many people and organizations miss these opportunities because we are scurrying around dealing with whatever it is that we’re so busy doing all the time that we don’t really remember afterwards.

I would like to acknowledge a few groups that made it a point to be there when it was most needed. First is the Jesse Tree, with its wonderful group of volunteers and too few paid staff members. The Jesse Tree has worked against insurmountable odds to keep their doors open and continue to serve a variety of populations with no other recourse. It’s a true calling for them and it’s been an inspiration and honor to work alongside them. The Jesse Tree/Beach Patrol Survivor Support has been busy this year and responded to a number of tragic drowning deaths and aquatic accidents. But they haven’t had to go it alone.

Thank you to several Galveston businesses and volunteers for their commitment and support.

There were many hotels. The Red Roof Inn at 5914 Seawall Blvd were there with rooms and meeting spaces and more for multiple events. The Commodore on the Beach Hotel, 3618 Seawall Blvd., Four Points by Sheraton, 2300 Seawall Blvd., Gaido’s Seaside Inn, 3700 Seawall Blvd., Best Western Plus Seawall Inn & Suites by the Beach, 102 Seawall Blvd. all came forward when most needed at no benefit to themselves.

In several of these situations a gathering room was provided for large groups of family members so they could have a place to commune during a search which lasted days. Rooms were provided for sleeping as well. But when people are grieving its critical to make sure both body and spirit are nourished. Restaurants such as Tortuga’s at 6010 Seawall Blvd and The Float Pool and Patio Bar at 2828 Seawall Blvd volunteered food, as did the Lighthouse Charity Cooking Team.

Support also came from the Galveston County Emergency Response Team, who searched tirelessly, and from EZ Bike Rental at 4712 Seawall Blvd and Galveston Real Estate Resource.

Anyone interested in supporting and/or participating with The Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, please call Sheila Savage at 409-771-2545.

All of these groups honor our community and represent the best in and of us.

Elbow Grease

“I take care of my kids m*****..! Don’t tell me how to raise my boy!” the man yelled.

Veins bulged from his tatted neck, his hands were shaking, and a little spittle was running down  the side of his mouth. A large group of men in their early 20s looked on seeing which way it was going to go.

It was right before dark on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. We were on Boddecker drive behind several rows of cars. Backup would take a long time to get to me if it was even available.

I held my hands out in front of me palms open. I tried to sound calm. “Look, no one is telling you how to take care of your kid. I’m sure you’re a great dad. It’s just that we’ve warned this group of people your with more than 10 times to stay out of the water in the ship channel and your 4 year old was out to his neck really near where that water runs out. Its deep there. We had 6 children drown there in one year a while back. All I’m saying is not to let him in the water from now on.”

The moment passed. He stayed mad but got himself in check. I got the feeling his kid wouldn’t go back in. I reminded myself what we tell the rookie guards. “You don’t have to win the argument. You just have to get them to comply.” Kind of like the key to a happy marriage is based on the question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”. I moved on to the next group and started with the same opener, “Hi! Has anyone been by to explain the rules and about how dangerous the water is yet?…”

The last thing my crew and I wanted to be doing as darkness fell last Sunday was going on foot to group after group explaining why they couldn’t keep going back in the water in the ship channel after we made announcements. We really wanted to drive away as night fell and hope for the best. But there were several hundred people that would be there well into the night, and many of them were… argumentative. Most of the groups had small children with them that they kept letting back in the water right after the announcements and directly in front of the bilingual, iconic no swimming/wading signs.

I’m convinced if the city hadn’t had the foresight to prohibit parking on the road and, instead to require them to park in designated areas that are a ways away from the most dangerous areas, we would have lost someone. I’m also sure if we hadn’t talked to each group directly last Sunday we’d be dealing with a drowning death, most likely of a small child.

Having the right system out there is vital. But sometimes good lifeguarding requires elbow grease and  comes down to one on one communication.

Pre-Labor Day

The week leading up to Labor Day Weekend has been an interesting one. School started and the beaches are suddenly pretty empty on the weekdays with the exception of some of the seawall areas and Stewart Beach. Last weekend, however, was really busy. We had pretty normal days with good crowds but the nights got wild.

Last weekend our on call unit responded to a total of 7 after hour calls between the time our last guards left around 9pm and before the first patrol unit hits the beach at 7:30. Most were boating emergencies that we worked in conjunction with the Coast Guard, Galveston Police Department, Galveston Fire Department, and Galveston EMS. Everyone ended up OK but the calm water and good fishing had everyone out in their boats in the middle of the night.

Another unusual thing that happened this week involved the water. We had a gentle current from the east for a few days, which was a change from most of the summer. A current from the west brings silt from the Brazos and Colorado rivers so we get that chocolaty rich colored water that we all know and love. But this easterly current cleared it up. Normally when we have these conditions we get a greenish colored water with a 4-5 foot visibility near the shoreline. But in this case the water looked like it does offshore. Saturday you could see all three sandbars from shore. Standing on a groin you could see all the submerged rocks and the sand on the bottom. And the water was a emerald blue green color. It was breathtaking and was even a little cooler than it’s been with no jellyfish, sea lice, or any other critters that would put a damper on things.

As we head into the last major weekend of the summer the conditions look really good. The rain isn’t supposed to be an issue, temperature should be mild, and we’re not expecting any unusually rough water or strong rip currents. Let’s hope this continues and we have one more really great weekend before everyone settles into their fall routine. The guards and equipment are ready on our end.

So remember to be that first and most important layer of protection for you and your family, but swim near a lifeguard so you have that extra layer if something goes wrong. Don’t swim alone and be sure to enter the water with children. Don’t forget to obey warning signs and flags, shuffle your feet to scare away marine critters, and that alcohol and water don’t mix. Also be sure to wear a lifejacket if you’re a non-swimmer or if you’re boating and make your children wear them when in or around the water.

Above all, stay away from the rock groins where there are always rip currents and don’t swim at the ends of the island where there may be strong tidal currents.

And have a great time, you deserve it! We’ll see you out there.

C-Sick Rescues

Brian Jarvis, of C-Sick Surfing, and his crew of surf instructors are a fixture at the 43rd street groin. They were teaching lessons early on a Sunday morning when they heard screaming off the end of the jetty. Looking up they saw 5 people in distress. They raced out to help, reaching them just as the first couple went under.

Keeping the boards between them and the victims they stabilized the group and brought them to shore safely. On shore they realized the two men and three women were wearing long shorts and some even had on beach shoes. Definitely not swimming attire.

The group had been completely unprepared for the drop off they stepped into when they got close to the rip current and drop off on the west side of the groin. They stepped into the hole and the current pushed them out to the end of the rocks as they struggled to stay afloat. If it wasn’t for the quick thinking and heroic actions of Brian and his group we’d have definitely been looking at least a couple of drownings.

And this is not the first time that C-Sick has done this. Nor are they an exception as other surf instructors save multiple people each year. In fact, surfers probably save at least as many people each year as the Beach Patrol does.

Not that we’re not working hard to prevent drownings, but surfers are in the water on the rough days when the rip currents are strongest and they’re out there very early, before the lifeguards get on duty. The same applies to fisher folk and people out walking the groin who rescue an estimated 45 people a year using the ring buoys that are in the rescue boxes that Beach Patrol maintains on the end of each groin.

The nature of Lifeguarding is different than other emergency services in several ways, but the most distinctive is that it is the most proactive. We try hard NOT to make rescues. We only make between 100 and 250 a year. Sounds weird, but for every rescue that happens both the rescuer and victims are put at considerable risk. It’s easy to die in the water if things go wrong. Instead of making rescues we annually make around 55,000 of what we call “preventative actions”, where we move people away from areas that could be potentially hazardous. Most of these preventative actions are moving people away from the 15 rock groins along the seawall, but we also move a considerable amount closer to shore, out of the water at ends of the island, or away from other hazards.

Overall, Galveston has a whole network that keeps people safe in the water including the lifeguards, community groups that make rescues and prevent drownings, other emergency response groups, and a whole bunch of public education done by guards, hoteliers, media, community and governmental groups, and you. Spread the word on how to be safe in the ocean to those close to you!

Naked Lady

The heat was kicking in as late afternoon settled over the beach. Tempers were getting frayed as sunburned, dehydrated, families packed up their stuff and got ready for the long, sandy ride back to Houston.

Lifeguards had been busy all day with a persistent current pulling people towards the rocks and small choppy surf keeping everyone on edge. The radio crackled with calls of lifeguards moving swimmers broken up with occasional medical or enforcement calls.

Suddenly an excited voice broke the pattern. “Tower 47 to headquarters, there’s a naked woman fighting someone on my beach”. The area supervisor arrived within a few moments and called that they were stepping out on a disturbance and requested the Galveston Police Department and another lifeguard supervisor for backup. Then there was some confusion and a Galveston policeman came up on our radio channel requesting us to send another unit that way to back up our guards since they had gone in the water.

Turns out the “naked” woman actually had a top on. Just not the bottom. When she and her wife stopped fighting and the lifeguards and police arrived she put on her bottom. Then she inexplicably took off all of her clothes, left her wife and two small kids, and ran into the area next to the groin where the rip current is. Supervisor Gabe Macicek and Senior Guard Emma went in after her and were trying to keep her away from the rocks so she wouldn’t get caught in the rip or step into the really deep area.

That’s when it started to get weird.

The woman was 6ft tall, big and strong, and was pretty worked up. She was yelling at Gabe as he kept trying to get her to return to shore and leave the dangerous area. They were able to gradually talk her into waist deep water. She asked him if they were cops. He told her no. Then she said, “You wanna be a hero?!!” and she started hitting both he and Emma. They tried to block her blows and stay away but she ended up connecting on Gabe 3 times and twice on Emma repeating her mantra of “You wanna be a hero?!!!) over and over.

The second lifeguard truck arrived while this was going on and Supervisor David Nash came up from behind the woman and bear hugged her so she couldn’t hit them. All three moved her a little closer to shore as several GPD officers went way above the call of duty and waded out to their knees and cuffed the woman (thanks yet again GPD!).

The teamwork the GPD and my staff showed was impressive. The guards who showed so much restraint and put themselves in harm’s way to protect someone who was (at least at that moment) combative, dangerous and completely out of her head are a real credit to both our organization and to the profession of lifesaving.

15 minutes later our “Heroes” stepped out on another altercation between two more people 7 blocks away. All on a Tuesday!

SHARKMANIA

Ahhhhhh….. SHARKMANIA!

With the sensationalism of the shark attacks on the Carolina coast it seems like everyone is on the lookout. Social media adds to the drama and we often get calls from reporters about sightings that they hear about. There was a good one floating around recently about a huge Great White that was caught swimming about a mile from Galveston’s shoreline. Turns out it was a Mako caught off of Nova Scotia during a fishing tournament several years ago. But where does reasonable caution intersect with irrational fear?

You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning or killed by a dog bite than being bitten by a shark. In the past 25 years we’ve responded to or received reports of 9 or so shark bites on the island. No doubt there are others, especially incidents with fishermen, but the number is very small. With around 6 million tourists visiting the island a year, the math works out pretty good… for the swimmers.

There are a number of reasons that our number of bites is so low compared to other beach locations and you very seldom hear of an actual “attack” involving multiple bites. One of these is that we don’t have rivers or inlets flowing out where there are a significant number of recreational swimmers. For example in Florida’s New Smyrna Beach, which is basically a river mouth, there are a number of bites every year. Another reason is that sharks in this area don’t have a regular food source that resembles a person. When I lived on the west coast and surfed regularly at Santa Cruz I often thought about how the white of my board resembled the soft white underbelly of a seal from below.

Aside from avoiding swimming in river mouths or in areas where bays and estuaries meet the ocean, there are a number of precautions you can take to reduce your chances of an unpleasant encounter with a shark while swimming in Galveston:

  1. Avoid Swimming in the middle of schooling fish- Sharks eat fish and could grab a hand or leg by accident. Even though the most likely scenario is for them to release and go for easier prey, that one bite could do some damage. This is the typical scenario I’ve seen in the handful of shark bites I’ve worked through the years.
  2. Shuffle your feet- When you drag your feet in a sort of “ice skating motion” you send out vibrations. Small sharks, stingray, fish, etc will try to get away from you. If you don’t step on them they won’t try to fight back.
  3. Don’t swim while bleeding- Sharks are extremely sensitive to the smell of blood and can detect a very small amount.

Part of the fun of swimming in the ocean is the excitement of being in a place that’s not your natural habitat. With a reasonable amount of caution you can significantly reduce the risk of a mishap and have a great time.

Beach Tips

I’ve noticed that many websites have a “helpful tips”, or a “frequently asked questions”. After the busy 4th of July weekend (and all the goofy stuff people ask and do!) my staff and I have compiled a tentative list for our website. Keep in mind that this is a very rough draft and probably needs a bit of polishing. It’s also based on actual events:

  1. Emergency lanes are not for dropping off and picking up all your coolers, BBQ pits, dogs, kids, couches, and other beach necessities.
  2. If you’re dog is off the leash, knocks over a little kid, and urinates on someone’s beach towel, they’re not in the wrong for complaining.
  3. Getting really drunk and almost hitting a child while riding a jet ski does not entitle you to pick a fight with the child’s parents.
  4. Losing your child 3 times in one day means it’s time to re-evaluate something. Maybe your drinking habits?
  5. Losing a 2 year old is not the kid’s fault and he doesn’t need a spanking.
  6. (To a large group of grown men) No sir. The Beach Patrol did not steal your Wiffle Ball bat.
  7. The job description of a lifeguard does not include picking up jellyfish, dead fish, or dirty diapers.
  8. Being a “taxpayer” does not mean you are allowed to drive your vehicle anywhere you want, including areas that other people (who also pay taxes) are not allowed.
  9. While we are happy, when able, to help anyone out however we can, giving your car a boost does not take precedence over responding to a possible drowning call. Even if you threaten to have us fired and even if you do “pay taxes”.
  10. (This one is more of a beauty tip). While sporty and sassy, that yellow bandana tied around your ankle does not hide that court ordered “low jack” ankle bracelet that you’re wearing with your bikini
  11. I’m sorry sir, but the “verbal leash” you have your dog on does not meet the city code.
  12. Saying “I’m not driving in a prohibited area, I’m just dropping off my stuff” does not mean you can blast through all the people on Stewart Beach in your big SUV to drop off your cooler and chairs. You have to use the parking lot just like the other 150,000 people who came to the beach today.
  13. You can’t swim in the “No Swimming” area by the rock groins. Even if you’re a Red Cross pool lifeguard who “swims like a fish”.
  14. When your big, slobbery, off his leash, pit bull is charging a small child, you yelling “he’s friendly” does little to comfort or calm his/her parents.
  15. Yes. You are welcome to fill out a complaint form because you are very angry that the rescue truck doesn’t carry a pump to blow up inflatables, such as your big Shamoo doll.
  16. (My favorite) Happy Birthday! But that doesn’t mean no one can play “chicano music”…..

The 4th

Summer is flying by. There have been so many people on the beach that even weekdays feel like weekends. As busy as it’s been even all of our rookie lifeguards have gotten a good amount experience under their belts which helps things run smoothly. We’re already to the 4th of July weekend!

The beach has shifted into its summer pattern. Tides have dropped from spring to summer levels. We requested that the Coastal Zone Management Department of the Park Board move our towers closer to the shoreline. Winds and waves have started dropping and we’re bouncing between green (calm condition) flags and yellow (caution).

The water is full of all kinds of critters now so we’ve been seeing a few jellyfish stings and an occasional stingray hit. This is still pretty minimal when you compare it to the hundreds of thousands of visitors, but more than we were seeing a month ago. Just as a reminder, the treatment for a jellyfish sting is rinsing with saline solution (or salt water if that’s the nearest thing). This gets the tentacles off and keeps the sting from getting worse. Then do something for the pain like rub ice on it or treat with a topical anesthetic. Most stings are a pretty short time event and it’s extremely rare to see any kind of allergic reaction to them. For stingrays, they’re easily prevented if you shuffle your feet while in the water. If you are unfortunate enough to catch a barb in your foot or ankle you want to soak it in hot water immediately- but not so hot you burn your skin. The pain goes away very quickly. Then you need to seek medical attention because they have a 100% infection rate.

We would really like to thank all of you that attended our 18th annual BBQ fundraiser or sent in donations. Well over a thousand people came to support, swap stories, eat food, and hang out. It ended up being a perfect night and a really good time. We really appreciate all the support and it was good to have all the friends, supporters, and beach people in one place!

If you or yours are headed to the beach this weekend remember to swim near a lifeguard and don’t check your brain at home or on the other side of the causeway. Stay far away from groins and piers.  Also remember to keep a close eye on your kids and wear a lifejacket if you’re a poor swimmer/child or on boats.  One thing to keep in mind is that we typically see a lot of heat related injuries (heat exhaustion and heat stroke) on this particular weekend. I’m not sure what it is about the combination of 10 hours of sun, food, and beer that brings this on? But it’s an easy thing to prevent if you remember to stay hydrated (no my fellow Texans, beer doesn’t count!), wear protective clothes and use sunscreen, seek shade periodically, and use decent sunglasses.

Have a great holiday!

Canine Rescue

Supervisor/Officer Joe Cerdas was on his way to work early the other day in his personal car. He lives on the west end and was just nearing the end of the seawall. It was in the height of tropical storm Bill and the wind was blasting, so he was driving carefully. Suddenly his radio crackled as an emergency call came through.

Apparently a man had been on the edge of the seawall looking at the huge surf as it bashed against the seawall and sent plumes of foam over the top of the wall. The tide was really high so you could hardly see the rocks at the base of the wall as wave after wave pounded in. His dog became excited and jumped off the wall.

The west end of the seawall has long been a trouble spot for the Beach Patrol. When the current sweeps from west to east people can get caught in the ever present rip current at western side of the wall and swept around in front of the wall. They can’t swim back the way they came, and there’s no beach in front of the seawall. When the tide is high and there are waves, you have to get over the rocks while the waves break on you. Then, you have to find a stairwell, and there aren’t many in the area. We’ve made many dramatic rescues using rescue boards to ride people over the rocks, often with the fire department lifting them up the wall.

As Joe pulled up he looked over the wall to see the 80 pound dog in big trouble. The poor dog’s pads were bleeding from multiple attempts to climb to the top of the wall, only to be repeatedly dragged down the wall between waves.

A GPD K9 unit and the animal control unit arrived right behind Joe.

He grabbed a rope from the animal control unit that was being used to try and lasso the dog. He then asked the officers and bystanders to lower him down the seawall so he could grab it. The plan was that once he had the dog they could pull him up and over the seawall.

He improvised a harness which he tied around himself and was then lowered down the seawall.

His first attempt to grab the dog was unsuccessful as a wave hit them both, causing him to lose his grip as he was tossed around by the powerful surf. On the second wave he was able to grab the dog and place him higher on his shoulder which gave him a more secure grip on the big canine.

As the peace officers and bystanders hauled them up, they were hit by numerous waves which slammed them against the wall. But Joe held fast and didn’t lose his grip.

As they finally neared the top of the wall, Joe passed the dog to his owner, and then he pulled himself over the top of the wall to safety.

All we heard on the radio was:

“Cerdas back in, one canine rescue”.

FOT6AA8