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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.

How would you like to be an open water Lifeguard?

NEW LIFEGUARD TRYOUT DATE!

May 1st @ 9:00 a.m.

Location:

UTMB Field House (swimming pool)

301 Holiday Drive

Galveston, TX 77550

Must swim 500m in 10 minutes or less.

Bring your physical signed by your doctor, and one of the following: Drivers License, ID, Passport, Birth Certificate, School Report Card and additional I-9 acceptable documents.  Drug Screen will be performed on site.

Lifeguard Academy will begin the same day.

Wave Watcher Academy

A group of people stood near the end of the rock groin at 37th street. They took turns removing the ring buoy and attached throw bag from the rescue box and throwing it to an imaginary victim in the water. The ring should be tossed over the head of the victim and gently pulled back to where the person’s head is. If you miss, you don’t take the time to stuff the rope back in the bag but coil it on one hand while stepping on the “bag end” of the rope. Your coils should go from the body out, so when you throw, they don’t cross over the other ropes and tangle. As in much of rescue work, the simplest thing gets complicated if not done the same way each time. It’s all about eliminating variables, so when things inevitably go wrong, you have less on your plate.

We are kicking off our first virtual Wave Watcher Academy. They can certify in CPR and will became official “Tourist Ambassadors”. We cover beach topography and near shore bathymetry, rip and longshore currents, protocols for lost children, beach rules and ordinances, drowning events, dangerous marine life and treatments, and Galveston areas that are hazardous to swimmers. On the final day they’ll tour the beach, will be issued uniform shirts and hats, received an official ID card, and we’ll finished up with a celebratory lunch together.

The Wave Watcher stats are entered into our data base so we can keep track of preventative or enforcement actions. By tracking the stats for the lifeguards, beach park security program, Wave Watchers, and Park Staff we get a good indicator of the amount of work being done to protect our locals and tourists on the beach.

The Wave Watcher program become an integral part of our family. Information is on our website, so let us know if you want to jump in the class!

On another note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t hit on an important upcoming opportunity for Galveston. The proposed Aquatics Center at Ball High would have an indoor, heated, eight-lane regulation length pool, boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, a coach’s office, pump and storage rooms, and bleachers for 300, instead of 30. For the first time in its history, Ball High would be able to host a swim meet. The old pool does not have locker rooms or bathrooms and is not regulation length.

The new Aquatics Center would serve Ball High’s swim team, water polo team, and Jr. ROTC. It would also be used by non-profit organizations (Galveston Island Swim Team, Ace After-School Program, Tor Kids) that teach swimming to Galveston children and by public safety groups. It will also help feed our Junior Guard and Lifeguard programs.

Galveston ISD is the only public entity with indoor, heated pools in the city, and is therefore the only organization that can host year-round water activities. On an island, that’s a good thing. Proposition B on the May ballot will be our chance to support this.

Clean Beaches

It takes a village to keep our beaches clean.

As Chief of Beach Patrol, I often write this column about our dedicated lifeguards and the volunteers in the Wave Watches and Survivor Support Network, Junior Lifeguards, and community groups that save lives, protect the beach, and raise awareness about water safety.

This week, I was reminded of the big beach cleanup event tomorrow, Saturday 10th, and recalled the front-line guardians, workers, and volunteers that keep our shores clean, green and pristine. While the official stewards of Galveston’s coastal environment are the Park Board’s Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and the Beach Parks Management teams, they are fortified with thousands of resolute volunteers. ​

While sharing the vision of a new environmentally sustainable Beach Patrol headquarters facility last week with our all-volunteer citizen-led Beach Maintenance Advisory Committee, I saw great work being done. This committee, made up of research and science professionals and engaged citizens, are dedicated ambassadors that talk to residents, share best practices, and make recommendations about keeping our beaches clean.  ​

While beach visitation is ramping up, our amazing overnight CZM crews picked up 36 canopies and miscellaneous beach gear items left on the beach overnight in March; last March the crew picked up sixty-two. Last year they collected 477 compared to 1,458 in 2020. Numbers are trending down, and it could be a direct result of the “Leave No Trace” ordinance enacted in 2018. Many people are doing their part by adhering to the ordinance and not abandoning items that often turn into environmental and safety hazards. Our city, the Park Board, and our residents can be proud that their collaboration and direct efforts in confronting the problem is making a big difference. ​Roundtable discussions and townhalls found creative solutions and promoted individual environmental stewardship.​ So keep reminding your friends, family, and visitors to “leave no trace” and never leave anything overnight.

Education and enforcement are finding new ways to diminish trash on the beaches and freeing up CZM crews to focus on other challenges like driftwood on the beaches. The crews relocated wood every day this week and our environmental experts surmise that it’s coming from the Brazos and Colorado Rivers convergence at the Gulf – a result of the storms that hit central Texas in mid-March.

Portuguese Man-O-War have been washing up on the beaches too. The blue balloon-like organisms are easy to spot. While beautiful, nematocysts on their tentacles can still deliver a painful sting when beached so be careful not to touch, especially when cleaning the beaches this weekend.

Hundreds of volunteers will be part of the Clean Galveston Adopt-A-Beach Coastwide Spring Cleanup this Saturday (April 9) and you can register online at https://www.cleangalveston.org to take the opportunity to be part of a great team.

This column is limited to 500 words and I can’t recognize all the great groups that are part of making our beaches so beautiful, but if you know a group that deserves a cheer, make a comment or post at www.visitgalveston.com.

Spring Break and Tri

Here we go! Another beautiful, busy weekend has passed. With no seaweed, perfect water and air temperature, and large well-behaved crowds, it’s no wonder our property values have risen so much! Technically, that should be the last big one of spring break, but I have a feeling that if the weather holds, we’ll be looking at busy weekends until the summer madness kicks in. We’ve been reviewing stats and staffing patterns and the reality has set in that Galveston’s beaches are busier earlier and later than they were just a few years back. Last weekend looked like a weekend in June. Again, our luck held with calm few incidents, even though we were busy with small stuff all weekend. Over Spring Break, we ended up with 5 rescues and a 4,153 actions where we moved people from dangerous areas.

The action is showing no sign of slowing. Sunday, April 3, is the Memorial Hermann 70.3 half Ironman event. We’re working with the Ironman staff, the Galveston Police Department Marine Division and Jamaica Beach Fire Rescue to provide water security. With around 3,000 registered participants it’s going to be a huge event and a big deal for Galveston. We work the watercourse with a modified version of how we guard the beach. Lifeguards work on rescue boards, so they can sit above the water to spot people and have floatation for all the swim assists and rescues we typically make during the event. Other guards work on “jet skis” to cover a zone of several guards and we call them Personal Watercraft Crew (PWC). Lifeguards communicate with PWC crews and each other using a combination of whistles and hand signals, which are the same ones we use on the beach front. The PWC operators have waterproof radio headsets so they can communicate with an “incident commander” on the shore. This capability affords the ability to triage patients in the water and quickly pass information to the incident commander, EMS, and the Ironman workers who know the racers’ numbers and vital patient information. Most of the people rescued are tired swimmers, but we can experience more serious cases that go directly to the EMS crews. At the end of the race, the lifeguards and police divers stay on the water until the Ironman staff confirms that all swimmers have been cleared of the water using the numbers we provide and electronic chips that register racer numbers as they run across a mat at the end of the swim.

Last Saturday, we held our first lifeguard tryouts of the season. The next one is in May. Out of all the applicants, four made it through the tryouts and demanding lifeguard academy. We also had a decent number of returning lifeguards requalify and, for those in leadership roles, go through their annual retraining in rescue techniques, report writing, advanced level CPR, and PWC rescue. The tower guards will renew their CPR qualifications along with those who return in May.

Another season is upon us and we’re all ready for another wild ride!

Warm It Up

Finally! Spring feels like it’s just around the corner. After the long, long winter there’s finally that feeling in the air. The cold is still there but doesn’t seem to penetrate all the way to your bones, and even if it’s cold in the morning you’re able to get by with a thin layer or just a t-shirt by the afternoon.

The water, however, doesn’t yet seem to know that it’s time for winter to relinquish its grasp. When our team works out in the ocean, we’re still wearing full wetsuits and hoods; boots and gloves aren’t necessary. The water temperature hovers at or just below 60 and Saturday was too cold to guard, but since then it’s been needed.

The spring breakers have been undaunted by the chilly water though. When the sun pops out or the wind dies down, they suddenly appear all over the beach. With Stewart Beach temporarily closed, we’re missing the spring sand volleyball tournaments and pickup games, but it will be worth it this summer when the crowds rush the shore. Last year, we had to close the parking lot due to flooding over 20 times. The lifeguards, shivering in their towers, have been moving swimmers away from the jetty rip currents. Fortunately, returning guards re-qualified and along with the full-time staff we’ve been covering a decent amount of towers. It seems like there were many people here on the island hanging out in restaurants, hotels, The Strand, or one of our many tourist attractions waiting for temperatures to warm so they can hit the afternoon beach.

This weekend is the last of main part of Spring Break. Afterwards, on the Seawall, fewer drivers will meander across the lane in front of you with speeds varying between 5-45 mph. No one will pull a U-turn, almost hit you, and then post up by a potential parking space, unashamedly blocking traffic, while 5 people take 20 minutes to load two chairs and a cooler into the back of their vehicle. Enjoy it while it lasts, because soon it will be time to retreat to the “secret” ways of moving around the interior of the island!

This weekend Houston schools, and a handful of colleges, conclude their Spring Break and the weather forecast looks pretty good. We may see those big crowds we’ve been expecting. Working with the Galveston Police Department, we’ve been keeping our eyes out for “pop up crowds” that can appear at a moment’s notice almost anywhere. As soon as the water hits about 65, which shouldn’t be long now, we’ll see a lot of bodies out there in the water. No doubt, it will get really busy really quickly to help keep them from getting in trouble and help set the conditions for a great resident and visitor experience.

The nice thing in our community is that we will soon graduate a small class from our lifeguard academy that can jump in and lend a hand to the more seasoned veterans. And more academies to come.

And so it begins….

Wave Watchers

Spring Break and lifeguard tryouts are just a week away!

Our full-time crew has been tying up all kinds of loose ends to get ready for the big kickoff of the 2022 beach season. They’ve been working hard to get ready for you! Finishing up getting all 600 beach signs we maintain in working order, we’ve also repaired and maintained towers, and many are already on the beach. Our lifeguards have completed crazy amounts of training to make sure they’re ready to respond to emergencies when needed. In addition to savings lives, they are ready to teach returning and new lifeguards what they need to know. All the while, our guards will continue to connect with the community, engage visitors, protect the environment, and help make Galveston a great place to live, work and visit.

Last week guards renewed medical skills, requalified in swimming and rescue techniques, practiced jet ski rescues, trained in handling workplace harassment complaints, equipped themselves with resiliency skills, and completed a big block on leadership. Mostly supervisors, these impressive people set the tone for around120 seasonal guards. A critical part of making sure we provide our staff with a safe, supportive environment, they are also the EMTs, Peace Officers, and back up for guards to handle the bigger emergencies. We put a lot of time and energy into making sure they have all the tools they need to do a really tough job and they appreciate your support.

Last week we talked about the Survivor Support Network. Another program that we’re excited about and hope that many of you will participate in is the “Wave Watcher Program.”

This program is a way for citizens to join our team. A mini lifeguard academy, Wave Watchers is free of charge and will begin in mid-April. Most instruction is virtual with a couple of in-person sessions.

The course will cover Beach Patrol history and operations, general beach safety, first aid and CPR tailored for the beach, tourist ambassador certification (CTA), beach and waterfront municipal ordinances, and Wave Watcher operations. On the final day, we’ll do a site-by-site visit of “hot spots” for water safety and discuss how Wave Watchers integrate into Beach Patrol operations.

There is no physical requirement and Wave Watchers do not make rescues. But upon completion of the academy, they form an important cadre of informed beachgoers who have “the eye. “Our Wave Watchers spot trouble developing and notify first responders to prevent situations from escalating or respond as needed. They do this important work during their normal daily life when members drive, walk, fish, surf, or boat along the beachfront, or during more organized patrols. The level of commitment and involvement will be completely up to the graduates.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the crew, you can find more information on our website at https://galvestonislandbeachpatrol.com/wave-watchers  or sign up at [email protected]

We hope you will join our team and family for a fun way to support a great cause!

Academy and Spring Break Prep

A group of men and women hold onto the pool wall, each in their respective lanes. Some are visibly nervous and already breathing hard. Others are taking deep controlled breaths and look calm, at least on the outside.

“Swimmers take your mark. Go!”

We are on the precipice.

In just two weeks we will hold lifeguard tryouts! At 9am, Saturday, March 12 in the UTMB Fieldhouse swimming pool, prospective lifeguards will swim 500 meters. To make it to the academy, they must complete the swim in 10 minutes or less.

From the pool, the ones that pass will go directly to the Beach Patrol headquarters and drug test, fill out paperwork, and dive right into the academy. Over the nine-day academy candidates will take a high-level Red Cross first aid and CPR course. They will learn and practice open water swimming and rescue techniques in the pool before using and building on these skills in the surf. They will have lessons about Galveston beach and lifesaving history, the way the city and the Park Board operate, and learn about the importance of teamwork. Front-line tourism ambassador training, how to diffuse conflict, how to build cultural competence, and how to become a better leader and follower are all part of the syllabus too.

Throughout the course, a variety of experienced instructors emphasize the importance of important concepts, including the understanding general rescue theory vs. getting mired in details of techniques that may or may not work in a real rescue. They learn about the need for flexibility and independent thinking and the balance between concepts like chain of command and group decision making. We repeatedly emphasize and practice the critical importance of physically and mentally rehearsing how to make a variety of rescues. Rehearsing and visualizing helps first responders to make the basics automatic and it can help them focus and helps reduce “tunnel vision” when first responders are stressed.

During this 90-hour course, our returning lifeguards will be out working Spring Break. Once the candidates course work is near completion, they’ll get to join the more experienced guards and work some busy beach days. There’s nothing more valuable than putting their new skills into practice in real life, under supervision.

We need guards! If you or someone you know is interested in a challenging, rewarding and life-changing job that helps people and allows you to explore your full potential, consider joining the men and women that protect Galveston’s beaches. There is specific information on www.galvestonislandbeachpatrol.com  about the academies we offer and other ways to support Galveston’s designated lifeguard service. Even if you are not one of those people in the pool on Mar 12, we still need everyone’s help and there are many ways to serve your community and “pool” our resources and experiences.

Come by and say hello and get connected to us. Anyone can help save a life by listening to advisories, learning, sharing safe practices and being “water safe.” And always, let us know if we can help. We are here to serve you.

Training

Happy Mardi Gras! When this big annual party rolls around that is a signal for us that beach season is just around the corner. This year, because of increased tourism and great weather, it feels like we never really left. These intermittent cold snaps are the only time the beaches don’t have people on them. Granted, with water in the low to mid 50’s, swimmers are few, but our patrols have moved a surprising number of people from the rocks for it being the “wintertime.” In just a few short weeks we will “Laissez le bon temps rouler” (let the good times roll) again and it will be “summer go time.”

One nice thing the past couple of months is the amount of training we’ve been able to get squared away. Our seasonal lifeguards, of course, have one hundred hours of training just to get going, and train consistently each day to maintain their readiness level. As they move up in the organization, there are more requirements. In fact, professional lifeguards wear so many hats that it feels like we’re always doing some kind of training or another. For some of our staff they’re maintaining an EMT certification, personal rescue watercraft certification, peace officer licensing, or Red Cross instructor accreditation (medical and lifeguarding). They also have certifications in swift water rescue, boat handling and SCUBA. On top of that they do training in leadership, workplace relations, cultural competency, tourist relations and more. I firmly believe that there is a direct correlation between the amount of quality training we can fit into their busy schedules and a high level of competence achieved to better serve the public.

One of the training courses that helps me stay current is Texas Police Chief Leadership training. I’m not always excited to attend and leave the island, but I find it useful, stimulating and re-energizing once I’m actually in the course. Texas has some of the best police training in the country and this course is no exception. I try to always take it in the winter, so I can be here during our busy season.

This year the course was even better than usual. The content was partly what you’d expect with fitness, use of force, legislative updates, employment law and emergent issues in law enforcement training. But there were some surprises such as strategic decision making in ambiguous environments, tools for conflict management and building financial strength in first responder families. There were even some like “training for life” which included meditation techniques, diet information and other strategies to mitigate stress. For a group that has one of the most stressful jobs and lifestyles out there, it really hit home.

There seems to be a groundswell of recognition among public safety, academics, and hopefully the general public that these types of jobs are abnormally stressful and its critical to reduce health and suicide. I’m glad we recognize that now and are preparing our first responders so we can keep supporting our residents and visitors and “let the good times roll” safely together.