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Rescue Theory – Part 3 (conclusion)

The last two weeks we talked about the basics of rescue theory and how we use techniques to make as many parts of a rescue become automatic as we can. The key components of elimination of distracting variables are level of fitness, skills, equipment preparation, and state of readiness. That gives the guards the tools, but they still need to prepare themselves for the myriad of unexpected variables that inevitably are thrown at them while making rescues.

Cognitive flexibility under stress, the ability to demonstrate flexibility and creative problem-solving strategies under duress, is a little harder concept for the guards to grasp at first. Through repetition neural pathways become more “worn”, much like a foot path that has been traveled more often and therefore becomes easier to use. This is a good thing in that response to a given stimuli becomes automatic, but with the obvious benefits come inherent risks. The potential issue lies in the environment itself. The ocean and beach are in a constant state of flux, as are the beach patrons themselves.  No rescue is routine as there are a multitude of factors that can affect the process. When in a stressful situation we all have a tendency to default to what we know. That’s good if it means we perform CPR the way we were trained. But you also hear stories about police officers who, in the midst of a shootout, start collecting their empty magazines off of the street because that’s the way they did it when practicing at the range. The goal of teaching people to show “cognitive flexibility” during a rescue or crisis is for them to default to their training while at the same time being able to expand their awareness and come up with creative solutions to problems that pop up while dealing with a multitude of issues.

Understanding this principle helps in the teaching process. In ocean lifeguarding we teach from the top down. Our instructors focus on the overarching principles and teach to trouble shoot application of these principles to a variety of real life scenarios. For example, instead of teaching exactly how to make contact with a victim in the water, we focus on basic principles such as keeping floatation between the rescuer and victims’ bodies, pausing and assessing a safe distance from a victim. That way the concept works when you use other types of floatation and/or in a myriad of specific rescue techniques. Once these general concepts are internalized through training and repetition (muscle memory), the guards become more confident and comfortable in their ability to handle anything that is thrown at them.

These concepts and a respect for the power and variability of the ocean are the beginnings of forging competent and professional lifeguards.

Rescue Theory – Part 2

Last week we talked about the basics of rescue theory and how we use techniques to make as many parts of a rescue become automatic as we can. The key components of elimination of distracting variables are level of fitness, skills, equipment preparation, and state of readiness.

Level of fitness involves a great deal of physical training that is specific to the actual environment that rescues will be made in. Our guards work out every day they work in the beach so they’re intimately familiar with the bottom contour, waves, and currents of that particular day. We also use periodic competitions as a means to motivate the entire staff to be at their physical peak during the beach season and to normalize the physical stresses inherent in a rescue.

Rescue skills atrophy if not used regularly. Incorporated into our daily pre-shift workouts is a skill component. They may practice CPR, hand signals, components of a rescue, public relations, or handling a lost child. Sports enthusiasts and public safety professionals regularly use the term “muscle memory” to signify repeating something over and over again until you don’t have to consciously think about it. For example, you may practice a modification to your swim stroke so many times that you start doing it automatically when you swim. It’s almost like your body remembers how to do something without your brain having to tell it. If these skills are kept current through repeated training and practice, they happen almost subconsciously during the rescue process so the rescuers consciousness isn’t spread too thin and he/she can focus on the weird stuff that inevitably happens instead on things that need to happen for every rescue.

Equipment preparedness is integral in the process. There’s nothing worse when trying to save another person than equipment malfunction. A fairly routine rescue can go horribly wrong when a fin strap breaks or a buoy is wrapped up improperly so the strap doesn’t play out smoothly. One of the first things the lifeguards learn is how to properly wrap their rescue tube. Once this is committed to “muscle memory” it’s automatically done the same way each time. The same principle applies to oxygen units, personal watercraft, rescue vehicles, automatic external defibrillators, and any other piece of equipment. Fewer variables stand between the rescuer and successfully saving a life.

State of readiness is a general concept that basically means the lifeguards come to the job each day prepared mentally, physically, and psychologically. They are able to maintain a state of alertness for their entire shift because they are well rested, hydrated, and wearing the proper gear for sun protection or temperature control. It also implies that they aren’t distracted by personal issues. Finally, before a lifeguard is able to work a stand, they need to have developed a certain level of confidence in their ability to save someone. This is accomplished by instilling the belief that they can handle unusual situations on the fly because they are proficient in their ability think creatively under the gun.

Rescue Theory – Part 1

A swimmer’s head sits low in the water and his arms flap out to the sides while trying to keep his head up. The lifeguard sees the telltale signs of a swimmer in distress. She immediately kicks into a whole pre-determined plan as she radios for backup, grabs her fins and rescue tube, chooses the proper entry (from sand or rocks), dolphins through shallow water while unwrapping her tube. Swimming with her head intermittently up to keep sight of the victim, she pauses on the approach, and talks to him as she keeps her buoy between them while extending it. Upon contact, she moves to his rear and buckles the buoy around him, assesses him, signals to shore what his condition is and if she needs help, swims him to the beach while checking intermittently, re-checks him more thoroughly at the shore and renders whatever medical aid is needed. While doing this she prepares to pass all this info on to her supervisor or other first responders.

Making an ocean rescue is a complicated process which requires a great deal of preparation to effect safely. There are a lot of ways this could potentially go sideways, so we spend a large percentage of precious training time on this topic. Obviously, there is a lot of physical training required in advance so the body is prepared, but the real keys are the mental aspects. These we break into two general categories, elimination of variables and cognitive flexibility under stress.

Elimination of variables encompasses a whole range of physical, mental, and psychological components. The overarching concept is when you start the rescue process there are a lot of things that need to happen, so you want to make sure you take care of as many of these variables as you can in advance and have fewer unknowns as you enter the rescue scenario. In addition to the areas that are consistent between most rescues, each event is unique and so things will be encountered that that could not be planned for.

When you go into action your body instinctively kicks in a whole range of physiological responses so you can do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do. Time seems to slow down as chemicals are dumped into your blood stream. Depending on your training and history you can experience a diminished mental capacity while at the same time have an enhanced physical capability. Taking care of as many things as possible in advance is crucial since you may not be at your best mentally during the rescue process. The key components in the concept of elimination of variables are level of fitness, skills, equipment preparation, and state of readiness.

This is the first of a three-part series that is the basis of how we teach rescue theory. Next, we’ll go into each of the specifics of the elimination of variables. Stay tuned for the next installment and Happy Holidays from all of us at the Galveston Island Beach Patrol!

4 Things To Be Grateful For

Happy Holidays! We’re suddenly at the end of a tough year with increased tourists, warming climate, and ever-increasing crew  reduces patrols to one vehicle a day for a couple of months and turns attention to rebuilding lifeguard towers, working on administrative duties, responding to occasional emergencies, and completing special projects, there is time to reflect. The holidays are a time to take stock of where you are in life, focus on important things, and take time to appreciate what’s good about living on our bizarre, unique, and very special little island. Here are the four things I appreciate the most:

  1. Working as a Lifeguard– It’s an incredible privilege to serve, and to have that service built into your career. So often ex-lifeguards come back to visit and talk about how the time they worked for the Beach Patrol was the most fun, most significant, and most pure. Going to bed knowing that what you did that day directly impacted lives for the better is something of real value. Along with 14 other amazing full-time people, I am fortunate enough to do that all year, and to have done it for most of my life.
  2. Living in Galveston– An old friend and I were talking on the phone recently. He and I grew up on the beach together and worked together for decades. He moved away for a time and couldn’t wait to get back here. He said mostly he missed the people, who are not like anywhere else. He’s from a big local family that’s been here several generations and was also talking about how great it is to live in a place where you have deep roots. We reflected on whether or not you have roots here, how many times and how many ways you cross paths with people in a mall island community like this as you move through life.
  3. Guarding in Galveston– Galveston is a place where people value what a professional lifeguard service brings to the community. The Beach Patrol staff really appreciates the support the community gives us within the city structure, the Park Board, other first responder groups, Wave Watchers, Survivor Support Network, CERT teams, and the citizens themselves. Getting over 7 million tourists home safely is a real team effort, and it takes all of us working together to make this happen. In return, repeat tourist business brings the revenue we all need to remain a vibrant city. Also, I can’t express what a privilege it is to work with the incredible staff of the Beach Patrol. They are a constant inspiration.
  4. The Water– As a 7th generation Galveston who comes from a long line of beach people, I was taught to love and respect the beach and ocean. Now after surfing for 48 years and guarding Galveston’s beach for 40, I still feel honored each day to have the privilege of seeing the sun rise and set over the Gulf.

Competition Results

From Supervisor Jeff Mullin, Team Captain for the team that recently competed in the United States Lifesaving Association National Lifeguard Competition, to staff of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol:

“Good afternoon, folks! Team Galveston is back from USLA Nationals and boy did the squad bring back some serious hardware and results!

To start, our very own Jacqueline Emmert got 4th overall in age group points (all ages combined outside of open events) and brought back a gold in the surf swim and 2k, silver in run swim run, international ironwomen (run-swim-board paddle-surf ski) and surf ski, and bronze medals in beach flags and board race. Way to show up and show out Jacque! Especially at your second Nationals appearance!

Next up with medal performances was Chief Davis, as usual coming back with hardware including bronze medals in his age group for American Ironman (run-swim-board paddle-surf boat row) and surf ski, and top 5 finishes in board race, run swim run, and international iron man, and barely missing out on making the open finals for surf ski by literally a foot and a half.

The landline team of Jacque Emmert, Jeff Mullin, Charlotte Blacketer, and Caleb Tiffin missed semi-finals by a mere few seconds.

Tiffin came to continue his winning beach flags performance in a stacked field of speedsters to make it to semi-finals in beach flags. Blacketer, even with an ankle injury, managed to get one spot away from making the finals in the pit! She even had the baton in her hand for a microsecond before it got snatched away!

Not to be forgotten, Mac Livanec and Axle Denner were one spot away from making the semi-finals in the open board rescue, with Livanec also making the semi-finals in the open surf ski.

Finally, with a combined team for the open women’s Taplin relay that consisted of Emmert from Galveston, Padre Beach Rescue, Monmouth County, and Virginia Beach, we were able to place for points which moved us up to tie with Hollywood Beach (Florida) and beat out Capitola Beach Lifeguard Association (California) and take 14th place out of 27 teams, many of whom had scores of competitors.

Our junior guards also had a great showing with Brendon Lusk placing 5th and Landon Morris scoring 7th in Beach Flags, Maddy Scott getting a 4th in the 2k and 8th in the Iron Guard, and Ryan Pryor with a 4th place finish in the swim relay. Not to mention 3 more top ten finishes in beach flags and iron guard!

Congrats everyone and “good on yas”. It was a fun one! Everyone come on out next year to Sunday comps so we can send an even better and faster team to Virginia Beach for Nationals 2023!”

In a profession where every rescue is a race, and every guard is an athlete, competition is our primary tool for maintaining the high levels of fitness required. I’m proud of both the competition team and the guards who trained and competed all summer to be rescue ready.

 

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.

Memorial Wrap Up

Somehow it all came together for Memorial Day Weekend.

The beach cleaning crews worked through the night to ensure the beaches were free of trash left from the day before. By first light, the beaches looked amazing. We finished the last part of the new lifeguard training Friday night and the rookie lifeguards hit the towers early Saturday with an experienced partner for their first shift. The Park Board Beach Security detail did an admirable job of dealing with the thousands that visited the parks. Wave Watchers patrolled, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) helped keep swimmers out of the water at both ends of the island, dispatchers were trained and in place, beach vendors had all their equipment out, and beach park staff was hired, trained, and ready to go. EMS, Fire, and Police were fully staffed and out in force. All the pieces were in place, and we needed every one of them.

From the time we started on Saturday morning until we crawled home late Monday night it was non-stop. Crowds were massive and the water was extraordinarily rough. Sunday was the peak, and there seemed to be so many people on the island that their combined weight would make it sink. Over the weekend we completed over 30,000 preventative actions where people were moved from dangerous areas, reunited 23 lost children with their guardians, made 105 enforcement actions, gave 1,366 tourists information about the island, let 16,069 people know to stay out of the water because lifeguards were getting off duty, responded to 77 medical incidents, and executed 12 water rescues. Needless to say, Galveston’s lifesaving team worked very, very hard to get everyone home safely, and we all feel both exhausted and grateful that we didn’t lose anyone.

The San Luis Pass was a hot spot. The police department worked hard to keep all the 4 wheelers and motorbikes under control while we struggled to get would-be swimmers to stay out of the dangerous waters in an area that has claimed many lives through the years. Our San Luis Pass patrol removed 1,324 people from the perilous waters of the pass over the three-day holiday.

Elbow grease wasn’t the only thing that caused things to go well. Fate smiled on our island. The sun was shining, the rain went elsewhere, and we had a really nice crowd on the beaches overall. We had few serious problems and, despite several hundred thousand visitors and locals on the beaches, no drownings.

As I drove the beach smelling the familiar BBQ, suntan lotion, and saltwater combination so unique to Galveston this time of year, I saw kids and parents, lovers, friends, and all kinds of people getting away from the daily grind and spending time together. All enjoying a place that enables them take time away from their daily stresses, honor our fallen heroes, and focus on what matters most for a little while.

Galveston and its beaches are a magic place.

 

Close Call

Lifeguard Rafael Diaz was working the early shift at tower 59 when he noticed a large school group pull up in two busses over by the 53rd Street groin. It wasn’t his area, but the guard for 53 wasn’t due to arrive for a few minutes more. Diaz, being a very proactive guard, noticed a big group of high school kids entering the water.

The current was running hard from west to east and there were really strong rip currents by the rocks. Diaz called in what he saw and started running towards the group. He yelled and whistled and was able to catch the attention of most of the large group and get about 15 of them to return to shore before they were pushed to the drop off where the rip current was.

Two young men were too far gone and got sucked quickly towards the end of the rock pier before we could make it to them. The 53rd Street guard arrived the same time that I pulled up. He followed Diaz into the water, and I ran out on the rocks.  The two young men were competent swimmers and kept their wits about them. They climbed up onto the rocks at the head of the jetty emerging with shallow cuts all over their legs and feet, but otherwise OK. I met them on top of the jetty and saw that Diaz gave the OK signal indication that there were no other swimmers in danger.

Diaz likely prevented multiple drownings by his quick actions in alerting the group to return to shore before they all got caught in the current like the two guys had done. But this is a big lesson for all of us.

Beach season is here, and the beaches are busy and crowded. With warm water and the usual rough spring conditions, its critical that we all remember the basics of swimming near a lifeguard, staying away from the rocks, and observing warning signage, because things can happen fast.  With 32 miles of beach there are many times and places where you will not have lifeguard coverage, so it’s a really good idea to remember these and other safety tips before you get to the beach.

Another thing to consider is getting to and from the beach safely. Driving responsibly, not drinking and driving (or swimming), and being very careful crossing the roadway to get to the sand are all things to consider. Basically, remember to keep your eyes open and don’t assume just because you are on vacation that its OK to forget to bring your most important safety weapon- your brain!

We are in the last push for the big Memorial weekend. We have a group of lifeguards graduating from a lifeguard academy and another is planned for June 15th. We got the go ahead to increase the pay to up to 18 an hour for new guards and are looking for anyone interested to join us. We’re also excited to kick off Beach Safety Week, which starts Sunday.

Beach Patrol and What’s Coming Up

This Sunday, May 1st, we are expecting 70 or so lifeguard candidates to show up for lifeguard tryouts. The following Saturday we’ll have another tryout and academy as well. We need them all!

I thought it would be fun to walk you through a sample of a summer day with us to illustrate all the things that are happening behind the scenes.

Starting at 7:30am the first patrol truck hits the beach, puts out flags, gets an overall feel for conditions, and updates the warning system. Our 1st dispatcher arrives and preps for the shifts to arrive. Three shifts of guards arrive starting at 7:45, followed by 10:30, and the main shift comes on just after noon. All shifts go to the beach for physical training, followed by short sessions that rotate between topics related to lifeguarding, medical response, resiliency, leadership, tourist relations or intercultural competency. For every 3 towers we ideally have 4 guards scheduled per day, to allow for breaks. Dispatchers work in a similar way.

We stagger our shifts to best use our resources and aren’t at full strength until after noon. To help fill the gap, many of our Wave Watcher volunteer program are out early checking various areas of the beach. They are a huge help in spotting potential issues before they escalate.

Meanwhile, we are also working administrative staff 9-5 and running our Junior Lifeguard Day Camp, with kids between 10 and 15. The first session of the day runs from 8-12 and the second from 1-5. They typically bounce back and forth from the headquarters to the water. They recover from exercises, games, and skills sessions while having lessons on similar topics as the guards. Then they go back to the ocean for swimming, paddling, rescue techniques, etc. We choose instructors carefully, so they’re learning from the best.

Guards get off around 8:30pm and supervisors and dispatchers continue for another hour. Then, some lucky soul gets to be “on call” and be ready to respond throughout the night to all kinds of emergencies.

Afternoons are our busiest time and can be filled with emergencies, or just the steady work of keeping people from danger. We work a zone system, where each truck takes care of a zone having 5-9 towers in it. We work a zone system, and are always ready to backfill, so we’re able to maintain uninterrupted coverage.

To accomplish all of this, we have approximately 125 lifeguards- most of whom are teenagers, 10 dispatchers, and 15 year-round employees. We cover 9 miles with 34 towers, provide patrol for 33 miles, and respond 24/7/365 to emergencies that happen in about 70 miles of waterfront. We also maintain our police department, support 15 or so Survivor Support Network Volunteers, and about 60 Wave Watchers. And our JG day camp program has 120 kids ranging in age from 10-15.

This all works because we have layers of supervision and coaching, both in our facility and on the beach, where the adults are in constant contact with the teenagers and children.