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Texas Lifeguard Groups

About 8 years back I was contacted by the City Manager of the City of South Padre. A number of their citizens were concerned because they’d had a higher than normal drownings on their beaches. He was very interested in starting up a lifeguard service for their city. Several visits later, I wrote up an analysis of their beaches with the help of some colleagues in the United States Lifesaving Association which included recommendations for starting a professional lifeguard service.

For a time I made frequent presentations to every group imaginable. There was a bit of resistance from some who said they had less liability with signs than guards. Similar to what Galveston and much of the country has gone through at one time or another. Eventually, reason (and lots of politicking) prevailed, and they formed the first ever lifeguard service for their city under their fire department. A group of guards ended up going down with me, including Sean Migues and Kara Harrison, and we ran a United States Lifesaving Association ocean lifeguard academy.

They were off to a good start, but the problem is that most of their 27 or so miles of beaches fall under the jurisdiction of Cameron County, and that includes 3 areas with huge crowds. The city beaches are mostly in front of the beach front condos without much crowd density. So on a given weekend there were a handful of people in their area, but nearby at Isla Blanca Park there were several thousand people. The city lifeguards were running to the county beaches and making rescues and dealing with all kinds of emergencies. The bar had been raised and the county eventually stepped up and started their own program, again with our help. In fact, the guy they chose to be their Chief of Lifeguards has worked for both the Galveston Beach Patrol and the SPI Beach Patrol. The county program grew rapidly and they now have something like 40 seasonal lifeguards and three permanent staff members. Drownings have decreased dramatically.

That was great, but there was still a big gap in the central Texas Coast. There has been a guard presence of sorts for years there, but they haven’t had a consistent training program and used a pool certification for their guards instead of something appropriate for the surf environment, which leaves them vulnerable to all kinds of litigation.

That all changed recently. Some scandal hit their Parks Department a few months ago and a bunch of people were fired. Several new key staff positions were recently filled including a new Park Director and Lifeguard Chief, who was hired last Thursday. The guy they hired was the number two lifeguard for the City of SPI. He plans to use the Galveston Beach Patrol as a model.

Years ago we got a lot of help from different lifeguard agencies from all over the country to set up the system we have here in Galveston. Nice to have a chance to pass the favor on!

Veracruz Training Wrap-up

At 7:15 our little band stood in the lobby of the Hotel Louis rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and filing into the van of the “Proteccion Civil” (Mexican equivalent of Emergency Operations). By 7:45 we were in the auditorium provided to us as a classroom for the 60 students of the lifeguard academy.

It was the last full day in Veracruz. The culmination of 60 hours of training over a 6 day period. We were tired to the bone after all the teaching and mandatory extracurricular activities that were required of us by Mexican customs and the formalities required of a delegation from Veracruz’s sister city.

From the written test we went directly to the beach and the large group was quickly divided into a subset of 4. Smaller groups of around 15 participated in 4 separate scenarios on the beach. Two were simulated medical emergencies that were designed to happen on the shoreline and the other two were water emergencies, which were complicated by the 8 foot surf. By 11:30, thanks to the help from some additional volunteers, we’d run the scenarios and done a debriefing to talk about the good and bad responses to the simulated emergencies. After the daily mandatory group photo shots and autograph sessions protocol dictated, we ate a hasty meal that our host brought us. Then we and reunited with a couple of members of our group who were assigned the arduous task of grading the 60 exams and putting the scores in the course matrix alongside the swim, run, attendance, teamwork, and first aid/CPR course columns. To receive certification from the International Lifesaving Federation- Americas Region they had to pass all of the columns. 26 ended up passing and the others received an acknowledgement of participation in the course, and in some cases a certification in first aid and CPR.

The completion ceremony filled the municipal hall of Veracruz and there were high ranking officials present from the mayor to an admiral in the Navy to the heads of both tourism and civil protection for the state. The mayor is the son of the mayor that was there when Galveston and Veracruz formed their sister city relationship, and that relationship is clearly very important to the entire city. We were treated like royalty by everyone we came into contact with.

We actually got two glorious hours off to change, rest and prepare for the big celebration. At the celebration we distributed second had buoys, whistles, fins, lifeguard competition shirts, Galveston stickers and other things we brought to donate. Nothing goes to waste down there.

Hopefully the training will come in handy to the 14 groups from all over the state in the upcoming couple of weeks. Carnival starts today and they expect around 2 million people to visit the city alone in the next week. Semana Santa (Easter) follows shortly after and it just as big. They’ll definitely have their hands full.

Our crew returned Sunday exhausted but with renewed commitment. Our own challenges start shortly.

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.

National Championship

The early morning light glimmered across the water, bathing the line of figures in a coppery glow. Each of them carried a narrow, sleek racing board under their arm. They were coiled and vibrating until the whistle blew and they exploded in a blur as they raced out into the water. First they high stepped until they were in deeper water then they hopped on the boards either prone or on their knees. Waves knocked a few back, but the front pack shot through the surf line in a tight clump and headed out to a line of flags and buoys.

The leader sliced through the water with the others drafting in his wake. They jockeyed for position as they neared the first turn, knowing  even a small error would be critical at this point. Only a few would advance to the next round.

One of the competitors who was towards the rear of the front pack nabbed a nice wave on the outside, joined shortly after by a clump of others. Having been able to rest on the wave, he jumped up in knee deep water and sprinted in through a funnel finish.

Welcome to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) national lifeguard championships. This year Daytona Beach, Florida hosted around 900 competitors and their support crews. The best of the best ocean lifeguards and junior lifeguards in the country competed in a multitude of Lifesaving Sport events which simulate the skills needed to rescue people in trouble.

More than any other of the emergency services, ocean lifeguards rely very heavily on their skill and fitness in the water to effect rescues. All the inter and intra agency competitions lead to regional competitions and eventually the best duke it out at the “Nationals”. Competition is the key motivator for thousands of beach lifeguards to maintain the incredibly high levels of physical fitness required to do the job.

The Galveston Beach Patrol has a long history of doing well at these competitions and are known throughout the country for this and for the innovative professionalism shown though decades of service. This year they did not disappoint.

Top junior guard finishes were:

Carlos Guerra (older group) 2K Beach Run-12th place, Run-Swim-Run- 15th place, Iron Guard (Run-Swim-Board Paddle)- 11th place

Mac Livanec (younger group)- 2K run- 2nd, beach flags- 8th, rescue board- 7th, Iron Guard- 12th

Baxter Wright (12-13)- 2K run-11th, board race- 2nd,

Carlos Guerra/Baxter Wright Swim Rescue Race 9th place

 

Finals for Lifeguard Competitors were:

Loree Pryor– American Iron Woman (run-swim-paddle)- 2nd, Beach Flags- 3rd, Run- Swim-Run- 4th, Rescue Board Race- 4th

Kevin Anderson– International Ironman- 4th, 2K Beach Run- 6th, Run-Swim-Run- 7th, Surf Ski- 8th, American Iron Man- 10,

Peter Davis– 2K Run- 2nd, American Iron Man (run, swim paddle row)- 4th, rescue board- 4th, surf ski- 4th, International Iron Man- 4th, Surf Ski 5th,

Nikki Harclerode/Caitlin Fairhurst– Surf Boat- 7th

Alana Anderson– 2k- 4th, American Iron Woman- 6th, Board Race 9th, Run-Swim-Run- 5th

BBQ and Recognition

It’s been a rough summer. The guards have performed under all kinds of adverse conditions admirably. Come support them tonight for our 18th annual BBQ fundraiser. This is the beach party of the year with well over a thousand Lifeguards, Junior Guards, water people, beach lovers and supporters of the various groups that work so hard to keep our beaches safe, clean, and enjoyable.

This year we’ll have it in our traditional spot at 24th and Post office and the base will be the Press Box from 6-10. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet you can buy one at the door. Music provided by DJ Joe Rios and luau style BBQ cooked up and served by the Galveston Rugby Team. There will be a silent auction as well. Proceeds benefit the Lifeguards and Junior Guards and help cover the cost of competing at the national lifeguard championships and various water safety projects. The Press Box is owned by none other than Rudy Betancourt, long time Beach Patrol Lifeguard and 100% G-Town local.

Last week we had the honor of giving awards to all the groups that came together to support the search for the 12 year old girl who drowned at 56th street. An unbelievable amount of volunteers, including family members, aided in the search. Food and lodging were provided while public safety personnel from a myriad of agencies spent untold amounts of time searching. We wanted to do something to recognize them. The sensitivity, perseverance, and altruism these scores of people showed is hard to describe. The intent was not to detract in any way from the unbelievable loss that the family is facing. While acknowledging that, our hope was to simultaneously recognize that there is an emotional component to the work the first responders do and they have a need for some type of closure to the incident as well. Hard tightrope to walk.

The Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network spent three days with the family providing counseling, translation, and information regarding the search efforts. The Red Roof Inn and 4 Seasons provided rooms and an area for the families of two separate events to base. Tortugas, Kroger, and the Lighthouse Charity Team brought food. The US Coast Guard spent hours of air and water time. Texas Parks and Wildlife put two boats in the water to search, the Sheriff Office and Galveston Police Department Marine Division were ever-present, and the Galveston Fire Department did everything in their power to help. The Galveston County Community Emergency Response Team came out multiple days using volunteer labor to try to speed up the recovery process. They even allowed for walk up volunteer labor at their command post.

It’s not enough. It never can be. But I people have a basic desire to do whatever it is we can do to help others when they need it most. All these groups did everything they could and, at the very least, they showed their love and support through their actions.

 

Beach Patrol Fundraiser Poster2