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Rolled G-Town

The large man crawled slowly out from under the bush where he’d been sheltering from the mid morning sun. As he emerged with considerable difficulty, using a crutch to support his weight, his swollen  and bruised face became visible under a bloody bandage wrapped around his head.

The man was in his early 60s and was traveling with two men and a woman who all appeared to be in their early 20s. They had come up to me and asked me to help their friend. They said they’d all come from a small town in Louisiana to spend Labor Day weekend in Galveston. The man had driven them and they’d been staying at a small motel while enjoying the sights and the beach.

On Tuesday morning very early, the man had gone out to stretch his legs while the younger crew slept. It was not unusual for him to be woken up by the pain caused by injuries sustained in the Marine Corps years ago. He was walking to the store to get a coffee when a young man approached him asking if he’d help his grandmother with something in the neighboring apartment complex. The man, being from a small town, took the request at face value and followed the young guy around a corner where two other guys rolled him. They took his car keys, wallet and even tried to take his pants off. When he resisted they beat him with a club and kicked him until he was unconscious.

Fortunately, someone saw it and called 911. The EMS came and took him to the hospital where they patched him up  and the police took a report. He somehow made it back to where his friends were but no one had any money. They left the hotel and went to a bank to try to get some help. He wanted to transfer money from his account in Louisiana so he could get a key made for his truck, buy food and gas, and get back home. He said the bank told him he needed an account or they couldn’t help him. He asked for a ride to the grocery store.

On the way to the store I gave him some money so he and his friends could eat and asked if he had any ID. Having none and thinking that they’d need it , I asked if he had a contact for his bank back home. He had the number so I let him use my phone. We ended up getting his bank to talk to our local Bank of America branch directly. They couldn’t have been nicer. I left him well on the way to receiving money with the bank staff being courteous and professional despite his rough appearance.

You never know where you will (or won’t) get help when you most need it, but many thanks to the staff at the Bank of America for doing what they could to make this horrible experience right for one of our guests.

 

 

Sandbars

I got an interesting call from a local woman who told me to write about what it means to “step off a sandbar” and why that can cause someone to drown. The woman, now in her 90’s, said when she was young she had to hand her 3 year old to someone else and trust him to bring her child to shore when she “stepped off a sandbar” herself.

Most of what we focus on in beach safety involves rip currents. Rip currents, responsible for 80% of rescues in the ocean (and presumably drownings) run roughly perpendicular to shore and are formed when water brought in by waves has to find a way back out past the surf zone. In Texas our strongest and most predominant rip currents are formed near a structure like a jetty. This is why we recommend people stay away from the rocks and why we post our towers on the seawall near the groins. If you’re caught in one, float with it and you’ll likely return to shore on your own. If you’re a good swimmer, try swimming parallel to shore, but never try to swim directly into a rip current (directly to shore).

The phrase “stepping off a sandbar” refers to times when someone is standing in relatively shallow water and currents or waves push them from the shallow sandbar into a trough where the water is deeper. Just as is the case with rip currents, if you simply relax and float you’ll be fine, but bad things happen when people panic or choke on water.

At our beaches we have a sandbar and trough system, both of which run parallel to the shoreline. As you walk into the water from shore you’ll step into deeper water, then shallower water, than deeper, shallower, and so on. Gradually it gets deeper and deeper but we have 4-5 sandbars and troughs before it gets deep enough for the bottom to level off. The sandbars farther from shore need bigger waves to break on them but the first couple are easy to spot by the breaking waves even from shore. Waves break in water about 1.3 times their height, so an experienced guard or person can tell water depth by looking at the waves. The waves don’t break in the deeper water so the troughs are calm looking areas between the sandbars.

The difference in depth between the sandbars and troughs is exacerbated by long shore current, which runs parallel to shore. The longer and harder it runs, the deeper the troughs. Generally when the current lets up the bottom levels off to normal in a couple of days, but this past week it was so calm that the normal “jiggling” of the bottom sand didn’t happen and there was a neck deep trough very near the shoreline all week.

Generally the most important way to be safe is to swim near a lifeguard, but it’s also a good idea to stay in shallower water than you would in an artificial environment.

Ready for Memorial

It’s hard to believe that we’re already to Memorial Weekend! With all the strange weather this spring it seems like summer just pounced on us.

If you’re one of the several hundred thousand we’ll see on the beach this weekend remember to be safe while you’re out having fun. Specifically, swim near a lifeguard, stay far from the rocks, don’t swim alone, obey warning signs and flags, take precautions for the heat and sun, remember alcohol and water don’t mix, watch your kids closely, and for non- swimmers and children especially- wear a lifejacket when in or around the water. Our friends at the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office are predicting some rough water and strong rip currents over the weekend so be extra careful. If you’re not sure about anything check with the lifeguard. All hands will be on deck so we’ll have really good coverage at all the parks, groins, and even on the west end including the San Luis Pass. We’re also getting some help from the Emergency Operation Center for extra patrols at the San Luis Pass and hopefully some flashing signs on the side of the highway coming on to the island. We have a new crew of lifeguards that complete their over 100 hours of training today that will be out working with the more experienced guards.

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity with the Lifeguard Academy going on, all the re-training of recurrent seasonal lifeguards, dispatch training, jet ski rescue recertification, taking care of all the last minute details on the beach, bringing water safety material to the hotels, final checks on equipment, and making sure all our personnel are good to go. We also had two major events this week.

Last Tuesday we had representatives from the Fire and Police departments, EMS, Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, and others participate in a mass casualty exercise at Stewart Beach to practice our skills, communication, and ability to work together during a crisis. We simulated a water accident with 15 victims. They were rescued, triaged, treated, searched for, and counseled. This is a great event for our lifeguard candidates to see how what they do is a small part of a whole system of emergency response. It also sharpens all of our skills right before the big weekend and summer season.

The final physical exercise was the next day where our entire staff (minus the ones that guarded and facilitated) competed in the dreaded “Night Swim”. This includes all kinds of challenges including runs, swims, rescue board paddles, calisthenics, a wall climb, knowledge checks, and ended in a long slip and slide at the finish line. Once our rookie lifeguards finish this they know they face any kind of physical challenge, which translates to a more effective lifeguard force.

Happy holidays from all of us here at the Beach Patrol and hope you and yours get a chance to take some time over the holiday to celebrate in whatever way that’s best for you.

Beaches and Risk

Years back I climbed up the pyramids in Tical, Guatamala. It was really steep and the steps were not designed for big American feet. I reached the top and looked out from a view above the rainforest canopy in awe. Then I looked down and realized there were no handrails. I was shocked. In the US this just wouldn’t happen. There would be railings and arrangements for disabled people and cable cars so no one collapsed on the way up.

We’re Americans. We live in a country with quite a few resources. A country that has city, state, and federal governments that do all kinds of things that allow us the illusion of complete safety. We rarely see holes in the sidewalks or stairs without railings. Signs are everywhere reminding us how to stay safe. “Caution Drop Off”. Plastic bags can suffocate you. Apple filling is hot.

All of these precautions are aimed at one thing. Minimizing risk. Not eliminating risk, but minimizing risk. The concept is “layers of protection”. It starts with each of us watching out for our own safety, then the safety of loved ones or companions. Then there are the railings, signs, metal detectors, airbags, child proof caps, security checks, health codes, etc.

It works almost too well. We forget that all of these layers of protection, while reducing risk, do not guarantee that we’ll be totally safe. We forget that there is no guarantee because we’re constantly inundated. We look for blame when accidents happen (“Was he wearing his seatbelt?”). And then we go to the beach.

Of all places the ocean is still the Wild Wild West. We do a great job of mitigating the risk considering the ocean is something that can’t be controlled. We train our lifeguards beyond all standards and expectations. We maintain over 300 safety signs up and down the beach. And we have layers upon layers of supervisors, vehicles, and watchers for the watchers. And at beaches guarded by United States Lifesaving Association lifeguards (like ours) your chances of drowning in a guarded area are 1 in 18 million. But, ultimately, we are only an additional layer of protection. We can’t guarantee safety, only mitigate risk.

There was a terrible, terrible tragedy last Saturday night. It was extremely rough and we held the guards late due to the abnormally large surf, strong currents, and crowds. The lifeguard at 24th called in that there was a swimmer out too far. The swimmer was past the waist deep we recommend for red flag days, but he was neither past the legal swimming limit nor was he in between the “no swimming” signs and the rock groin. And he was not struggling. The man did nothing wrong and our guard not only did nothing wrong, but was being more proactive than could be expected. But the man slipped underwater within just a few seconds without warning and died.

My heart goes out to both the family and our staff who are struggling to come to terms with this.

Compassionate Police Work

“Possible drowning, 25th and Seawall Blvd…” came across the radio from the 911 dispatcher.

I was close and pulled up to the west side of the Pleasure Pier. Not seeing anything, I drove to the east side and spotted someone near the end of the “T-head” swimming towards shore with a strong, overhand stroke. A Galveston Fire Department truck pulled up  on the seawall and another Beach Patrol unit pulled up on the sand and Supervisors Joe Cerdas and Mary Stewart got ready to go in. Not seeing any immediate crisis I asked all responding vehicles to reduce to normal traffic.

Bystanders ran up and said the guy had been yelling at people all morning and acting erratically. I asked Joe to give the guy some distance and signal if he needed help. Joe went in on a rescue board and the guy immediately started cussing and threatening him. Joe signaled, Supervisor Mary Stewart took over command, and I went in as Kevin Knight pulled up on a jet ski. We recognized him as one of our beach regulars and corralled him without any real problems. Usually the guy is pretty calm but this particular day he was really agitated. Two Galveston Police Department Officers were waiting on shore. This is where the real story starts.

Officer Sean Migues worked for Beach Patrol for a number of years. He was also a US Marine that, at one time, was assigned to Presidential security. Sean is one of the two officers that works essentially as a tourist police, mostly on the seawall.

The man was ready to fight and you could tell he was barely under control. We made a ring between him and the water since a water struggle is way more dangerous than on land. But Sean, who is an extremely charismatic and affable guy. maintained such a calm demeanor that the guy couldn’t find a way to explode. Once it was clear that this couldn’t be resolved at the scene and the guy couldn’t be released safely, Sean went to work in earnest. He talked the guy into handcuffs so smoothly  that the guy thought Sean was doing him a favor (which he was). Many peace officers would have just put the guy in jail and let him stay there till his episode passed. Someone else would have had to deal with him soon after. But Sean had a hunch and started making calls and somehow found out that he’d been a psych patient and convinced the hospital to re-admit him. Instead of a couple of days in jail for some small charge Sean got him on a path to correct the root of the problem. Compassionate police work requires more effort, but can be life altering.

Sean and thousands of others like him around the country practice this daily. They don’t make the news, but we are all better because they take the path of more resistance.

The final Beach Patrol tryouts are tomorrow! Info is on our website…

Winter Is Here

Water temperature in the 50’s is a game changer. Even our hard core surfers don’t last long with the 3 millimeter wetsuits most Texans wear, and the only swimmers we encounter seem to be Russian or Canadian.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and got to spend time with people they care about. This is always a great time to reflect on things we’re grateful for. I personally feel really appreciative of the hard work our staff did this season, the support of all the groups we work with and the community of Galveston, and the chance to slow down for a bit, recharge the batteries, and fill in some details that we couldn’t get to during the busy season.

We’re almost at the end of our patrol season with this weekend being the last where we’re proactively out there checking the beaches for a while. Most of our crew has been working hard refurbishing our 28 lifeguard towers while alternating the days they take a patrol shift. They’ve also been doing one last pass of replacement and repair of the 300 or so signs we maintain along 33 miles of beachfront. But starting December 1st everyone will focus on finishing the towers up so they can spend the remaining time until everyone is able to work on individual projects.

Each of our full time supervisors has an area of responsibility that they take full charge of. There is a window of time from late December until March 1st when they have time to get the bulk of this work done. Some of the areas are board and craft repair/maintenance, website upgrades, virtual lifeguard museum, recruiting/water safety video projects, policy and procedure manual updates, training material preparation, and ordering supplies and equipment.

One major change we are trying to make is to move to an almost completely paperless system. We recently purchased computers for each vehicle so reports can be done while overseeing a zone of responsibility. We’re getting close to purchasing an electronic records management system for storage and easy retrieval of reports and other documents. My hope is that by 2016 we can operate with 90% digital files and documents.

There’s an upcoming event that I wanted to mention. We’ll follow up with more details, but the annual public safety Christmas parade is scheduled for Saturday, December 13th in the morning. This event has been growing and has been a fun X-mas holiday kick off. It’s been a nice way for first responders from different agencies to show our community how appreciative we are for the support we receive. Also it’s an opportunity for the community to show support for everything these hard working public safety organizations’ men and women do.

From all of us at the Galveston Beach Patrol we hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season. Hopefully you’ll have the time and opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the things and people that are most important to you.

Labor Day Advisory

With Labor Day upon us we’re expecting several hundred thousand people to be on the island this weekend. That’s a lot of chances to have something go wrong.

Over the past couple of weeks there have been several rescues that we’ve had to make by the rock jetties despite our best efforts to keep people far enough away to avoid trouble. There have also been a couple of incidents involving young children in area pools that nearly drowned and two men drowned in the San Luis Pass area while boating from the Brazoria County side. Most or all of these incidents happened at least partly due to momentary lapses in judgment.

People do things when on vacation or out recreating that they would never do in their normal life. Parents who no doubt are very attentive to their children lose them repeatedly at our large beach parks. We can have up to 60 lost kids in a single day at Stewart Beach alone. People who are not generally risk takers swim far from shore and/or pay no attention to warning signs, flags, or lifeguard instructions. Are the parents bad parents? Are the people ignoring safety messages intentionally? Not in my opinion.

All of us get in a different mindset when we’re away from our routine and when we do something fun. We throw caution to the wind and immerse ourselves in the sea and sand and fun. This is good to a point and that point is sometimes the shoreline. Water is not our natural element. Things can go wrong quickly in the water so it only takes a momentary lapse of judgment or seconds of inattention for things to break bad.

But is doesn’t have to be that way. Taking a moment to observe your surroundings at the beach or pool does a lot. Asking someone who is knowledgeable, like a lifeguard, what to watch for before getting wet means that you greatly reduce your chances of an accident.

When you go out this weekend to enjoy any type of water remember to take a minute to be aware of your surroundings and potential risk. You also want to remember the basics like not swimming alone, staying hydrated, protecting yourself from the sun, observing signs and flags, feet first first time, alcohol and water don’t mix, and non-swimmers  and children should wear lifejackets. At the beach, you should also avoid swimming in areas where rip currents are likely, like near piers and jetties. These are protected by lifeguards and clearly marked with bilingual, iconic signage.

Choose to swim in areas protected by lifeguards. In beaches guarded by United States Lifesaving Association lifeguards, like Galveston, your chances of drowning are 1 in 18 million.

But above all, YOU are responsible for the safety of both yourself and your family. Lifeguards provide an extra layer of protection in case your safety net lapses temporarily.

Enjoy the Labor Day weekend. You deserve it. See you on the beach!

South Padre Island Competition

The drive to South Padre is long. After 5 hours or so we pulled into a truck stop to get some gas. It was over 100 degrees and the wind was blasting at nearly 30mph. Cowboys gawked as we got out of our lifeguard truck piled high with boards, buoys, flags and other competition equipment.

The next morning we arrived at Isla Blanca County Park just after 6am to a beautiful day. We were greeted by a bunch of enthusiastic young lifeguards who were really helpful as we set up a water course with 10 flags that corresponded to the 10 flags on PVC posts along the shoreline.

The Gulf Coast Regional Championships started off with a run, followed by a run-swim-run, rescue board race, 4X100 meter beach relay, swim rescue, rescue board rescue, and a game of beach flags. Three teams were represented: Galveston Beach Patrol, South Padre Island Beach Patrol, and Cameron County Beach Patrol. There was a 15 minute break between each race and the marshaling for the next one. As the day wore on, more and more people crowded around to see what was going on. This was the first time an event like this has been held on SPI and everyone wanted to know all about it. Isla Blanca was the perfect venue with several thousand people already at the park on this busy Sunday.

Because we couldn’t spare many guards we only went down there with three people. Along with me were Kevin Anderson and Amie Hufton who are both good athletes and experienced competitors. Despite this, Kevin and I were surprised to see two of the younger guards blast off during the swim and beat us to the finish line by a few seconds. We got our game face on but still had some little dude beat us in the paddle. Meanwhile Amie won the women’s run, got 2nd in the swim, and won the paddle. Kevin and I finally got it together and won both the swim rescue and the rescue board rescue by a big margin. By 1pm we wrapped everything up with Team Galveston winning 5 firsts, 3 seconds, 4 thirds, and 2 fourths.

From there we caught a quick lunch and then joined the city lifeguards in a 3 kilometer paddle that ended in a fundraising party. I’d spend quite a bit of time down there a few years back helping both groups set up lifeguard services and it was good to catch up with friends and acquaintances  from that time that are involved with city and county government, lifesaving, and surfing. But we were all definitely glad to crawl into our beds in the hotel and I think we were all sound asleep by 10pm!

5 years ago there were no lifeguards in South Padre island. Now the county has 45 guards and the city has 25 and they have joined the United States Lifesaving Association. Many lives have been saved and will be saved.

Drowning Prevention for the City of Galveston

Swimming Safety- English

Swimming Safety- Spanish

 

For a downloadable version of the brochure, click here.

Archie

Some people are wired different than others. Some candles burn brighter. Some people are larger than life. Archie Kalepa is such a person.

Archie was the Lifeguard Chief in Maui for quite awhile. We are the same age and knew each other originally through the United States Lifesaving Association and forged a friendship through the years. Archie recently retired his position to become the primary “ambassador” for Olukai sandals and to pursue other interests.

Visiting Archie in Maui is like visiting a prince. Driving through Lahaina with him in his giant monster truck pulling a boat or with an assortment of boards and water toys is almost impossible due to all the people waving, honking, flagging him down, asking favors, or just wanting to chat. But all the attention doesn’t seem to get to him. He stays focused, stays humble, and shows respect to each and every one. He knows every kid that waves as they see him and smiles, yelling “Uncle Archie!” Surfing with him is even better. In a place known for fierce localism, ultra competitive world class surfing, and an overabundance of testosterone in the lineup, you’d expect trouble. But paddling out with Archie gives you a magic shield. Guys that would terrify you in an alley are all smiles and “Your wave brudda”.

This attention has been earned not just by being a nice guy. Archie is a true legend that earned respect in a world full of very accomplished lifeguards, surfers, and athletes by becoming one of the most accomplished watermen on the planet.

His pedigree is impeccable and he comes from a long line of Hawaiian legends. But he carved his own way. Archie first became a local hero when he saved 15 people and one dog during Hurricane Iniki. He was one of the original pioneers in rescue with a personal water craft. In fact, the watercraft rescue program we have here is based on training and materials he, Brian Keaulana and a handful of others provided us.

Outside of lifesaving, he is known as a legendary big-wave surfer. He has performed stunts for Hollywood movies, traveled extensively sharing his knowledge of water rescue, and is one of the few people in existence that is comfortable riding the monster waves of the infamous Maui break “Jaws”. And by “monster” I mean 8 story tall waves! He also is one of a handful of people who pioneered the use of the surf foil and one of the surfers who renewed interest in riding and paddling the stand up paddleboard (SUP), the use of which is sweeping the world now.

As a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Archie has traveled to Tahiti on both the Hokulea and the Hawaiiloa traditional voyaging canoes, and is dedicated to resurrecting interest in the traditional Hawaiian sport of canoe surfing.

You can meet Archie this Sunday. Around 5pm, Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialties and Olukai Sandals are sponsoring an intimate meet & greet followed by live music at Galveston’s own Beach Hut.

See you there!