(Sept. 12, 2014) The Ocean City Beach Patrol has been in a reduced coverage scheme since the third week in August (Aug. 18).
This reduction in personnel is an annual occurrence and was complicated this year by Labor Day falling on Sept. 1 (the earliest possible date) and by the early start of college classes and the return of our education professionals to school systems throughout the United States. This also includes all Maryland schools, which had students begin a week prior to Labor Day. Except our local Worcester County schools, which for the first time began after Labor Day.
Reduced coverage is a reduction in available staff and extends until the Sunday of Sunfest weekend, Sept. 21. During this reduced coverage, staffing levels will be far less than the OCBP’s mid-season deployment. OCBP had more than 75 percent of its staff report to other responsibilities prior to Labor Day with the majority returning as students, and the remainder taking full-time career positions or returning to their classrooms as educators. Many of these educators are required to return two weeks prior to Labor Day each year to attend professional meetings and prepare for the arrival of students. Several school systems brought teachers back three weeks before Labor Day which has been a trend for the past couple of years for both colleges and public school systems. This change has dramatically impacted the availability of the majority of our 200 employees during the last weeks of summer.
Historically, we have needed to begin reducing coverage beginning with the third week in August as our staffing levels decreased to approximately 60 percent of our mid-season deployment. This year it occurred a week earlier.
However, this year we were able to add an additional 25 stands for the Labor Day weekend as a direct result of many of our Surf Rescue Technicians making a conscious effort to return for the three days. At this time of the year we rely more heavily on the local educators along with other additional SRTs returning that often have to travel long distances to come back to help increase the total number of stands (and decrease the distance between stands) on weekends. In addition, we are increasing the number of Mobil Rescue Units patrolling the beach.
We continue to talk about the tropical storm activity because it continues to impact our situation at the end of the season. This typical increase in tropical storm activity in the Atlantic as well as approaching hurricanes have caused their fair share of creating some rough surf.
The heavier surf contributes to the frequency and severity of rip currents that form along the Ocean City beach and pose an increased danger to swimmers. We have seen some powerful rips that can open up at any given time and have caused a few days of increased rescue activity. The beach patrol believes that these conditions warrant beach patrons to take extra precautions and walk the short distance to swim in the vicinity of a Surf Rescue Technician (lifeguard) on a stand. Or better yet, just swim directly in front of the lifeguard.
Because of the dedication and commitment of the Ocean City Beach Patrol staff, we will be able to continue providing coverage for all 10 miles of Ocean City beach until Sunday, Sept. 21. Although this coverage will be done with fewer personnel and less lifeguard towers, we will supplement this coverage by increasing the number of Mobil Rescue Units patrolling the beach. These mobile units are first-aid and AED equipped with one SRT (rider) acting as the primary rescue swimmer while the other SRT (driver) maintains radio communication and backup during an emergency. Both are qualified as surf rescue technicians, medical first responders and are quad (ATV) certified.
SRTs will continue to be on duty daily between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., although the distance between stands will be greatly increased. The first priority of the Ocean City Beach Patrol continues to be public safety. We strongly encourage all beach patrons to restrict any beach or water related activities to times when beach patrol personnel are on duty, never swim alone, always stay within the limits of their ability and never rely on a flotation device.
In contrast to closing out the 2014 season, this is also the time when the OCBP starts testing for new lifeguards for 2015 and begins focusing on our staffing needs for next season. As we plan for next season, we will review statistics and data and will make decisions on the number and placement of lifeguard stands.
To begin reaching our recruiting goals, we held a test on Aug. 9 and Aug. 30 and offered appointments to next season’s Surf Rescue Academies to 25 highly qualified candidates. We will need additional staff for next season so we will hold another pre-employment physical skills evaluation planned for York, Pa. in late February.
Other lifeguard tests may take place during the winter at colleges in the mid-Atlantic region or in Ocean City in late May and June, depending on our need. Those individuals who qualify will receive an appointment to a paid Surf Rescue Academy ($12.99/hour) in May or June where all training and certifications will be provided. As you can see the ending of one season blends into the beginning of the next with a lot of the behind-the-scenes planning taking place throughout the winter.
For additional information about the testing or training of beach patrol hopefuls click on the JOBS button on our Web site, www.ococean.com/ocbp. Or for daily locations of SRTs, call Ocean City Beach Patrol headquarters at 410 289 7556.
Always remember, “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard’s in the stand!” and for your safety, walk the distance and swim directly in front of the nearest Surf Rescue Technician on a stand and only swim when lifeguards are on duty.
It’s still a great time to be in Ocean City!