Lifeguards step up big when busy summer weekends surface
by Johnny McDonald
Jul 21, 2011 | 2447 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lifeguard officials reported 738 water rescues over the just-concluded Fourth of July weekend — more than three times the numer of rescues made in 2009 and 2010. Medical aids also doubled from the same time period in 2010.                                Photo by Jim Grant I Beach & Bay Press
Lifeguard officials reported 738 water rescues over the just-concluded Fourth of July weekend — more than three times the numer of rescues made in 2009 and 2010. Medical aids also doubled from the same time period in 2010. Photo by Jim Grant I Beach & Bay Press
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San Diego Lifeguard Services Lt. Nick Lerma referred to the more than 730 rescues on the Fourth of July weekend as the “Super Bowl of life guarding.”  Emergencies were huge, he said.

Now, with the prospects of warmer weather, he anticipates this could be a banner summer.   Maybe  few more rescue “super bowls” are in store.

“We had just about the same number of beachgoers last year [during the Fourth of July weekend] but the overcast and cold water conditions [last year] kept people ashore,” he said. 

Obviously, lifeguards had less to do and kept jackets on during that time.

Lerma is in charge of 100 lifeguards who scan from the towers from north to south Mission Beach, handling the sometimes-wayward public that doesn’t always heed posted warnings or loudspeaker announcements.

The lifeguard’s playbook underscores  three activities, called the rescue triad. 

“It deals with wave length, air and water temperatures,” said Lerma. “Waves will tell  us where the rip currents are. If air temperatures are in the 90s inland they’ll be in the high 70s on the beach.”

Lerma said he anticipates a high volume of rescues this summer, noting warm air and water temperatures  will contribute to beach and ocean traffic volumes.

“The problems begin after visitors find parking,” he said. “The average family will put down blankets unaware of any surf warnings. Many families lack swimming capabilities and don’t know how to handle rip currents.”

As the water warms, swimmers may have to deal with additional issues like stings from rays or jell fish. 

On the South Mission tower, lifeguards are also responsible for boating problems. dealing with breaking waves in the canal entrance to the bay.

For the more experienced water adventurers, Lerma said San Diego is a great place for surfing, scuba diving and boating.

As far as staffing issues, there are a  variety of staggered shifts and stations close at sunset.  A four-person crew is on duty for night aquatic responses.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s Lifeguards Services division is a 24-hour rescue agency that patrols  three miles offshore and conducts coastal cliff rescues, underwater searches and recoveries, swiftwater and flood search and rescue, as well as emergency medical responses.

Lifeguards also handle enforcement of city, state and federal laws and regulations, through prevention, citations and arrests. 

Lifeguards are required to set up and tear down each day. Duties include vehicle and water craft readiness and gathering those orange buoys.

Professional life guarding in the city of San Diego started in 1918 with five lifeguards in Ocean Beach and Mission Beach. 

Previously, they were part of the police and recreation departments.

The Junior Lifeguard Program, aimed at youths ages 9 to 17, is an extremely popular outreach program conducted each summer with an annual attendance exceeding 500 young men and women. 
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