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Ocean City

On Guard 08/09/2013

Rip currents and shore break can pose dangerous situations


Contributing Writer

Kristin Joson

(Aug. 9, 2013) August not only brings hot humid temperatures, but the ocean typically gets rougher as tropical storm activity is more prevalent in the Atlantic Basin pushing larger more frequent waves onto our beaches. Rip currents, shore break, and what some might refer to as “great body boarding waves” all can pose dangerous situations for swimmers.

People who are unaware of the ocean’s power and swiftly changing movements can suddenly find themselves in trouble without realizing it. Swimmers who overestimate their abilities while underestimating the power of the ocean and its waves and currents, may be in for an unpleasant life-altering experience. The crushing power of a ton of water in the form of a wave can cause serious or fatal bone and joint injuries. The Ocean City Beach Patrol recommends that you ask the SRT on duty about the current water conditions for the day. They will inform you of any potential hazards that you should be aware of. Your SRT may even gather everyone on their beach around their stand for a safety talk to make sure you are aware of constantly changing conditions. However, if an unfortunate accident should happen, SRTs are well prepared to handle any emergency.

Although broken ankles, dislocated shoulders, concussions and cracked ribs are not uncommon injuries for active people, the most serious of these involve head, neck and back injuries. Most people are aware that on land it is always best not to move a person who may have a back injury.

However, in the ocean the movement of the waves makes leaving the victim in the surf, to possibly sustain more injuries, not an option and if they are unconscious or immobile may create a drowning situation. A quick and controlled removal is critical but putting victims on backboards while in the surf can actually cause more damage.

Beach patrol guards are taught how to effectively and carefully extract victims from the surf who may have sustained an injury to the head, neck or back. Guards work as a team to carry a victim to safety while minimizing movement to the head, neck and back.  The Beach patrol has collaborated with medical professionals to modify a technique of removing victims with suspected neck or back injuries out of deep and or shallow water.  The technique has been refined over many years of training and usage from its introduction as a technique developed in Hawaii. The modified technique is unique to the OCBP, but has developed with input from the medical community and emergency providers. It has been approved by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services as a state standard with the Ocean City Beach Patrol as the only organization that is certified to teach other first responders and organizations in this victim removal technique.

Because of our experience and expertise in this area we have been asked by Beach patrols as far away as California to share our training materials and have been featured presenters at several statewide Emergency Medical Services symposiums.

The most common culprit of neck injuries results from swimmers that are body surfing or body boarding incorrectly or in unsafe conditions. To make sure you don’t experience our extraction technique first hand, you use the proper technique for riding waves. The safest method is to get in front of the wave so it is pushing you out in front and finish your ride before running out of water. Body boarding on the top of a breaking wave may cause you to be propelled to the ocean floor. To prevent this, stay on the rear half of the board and if you need to bailout, go off the back of the board. The proper way to body surf a wave is to have your hands out in front of your body; this allows for more control of movement in the water.

The most dangerous condition exists when we are experiencing shore break.  Shore break occurs when waves continue to build and crash with full force on the shore with little or no water depth. When unsuspecting victims find themselves on a breaking wave and they are being thrown into shallow water they have set themselves up for a tragedy. Never ride a wave during shore break conditions or play in the impact zone.

Although education and prevention are the primary focus of the beach patrol mission,  SRTs are well trained and prepared to handle severe neck and back injuries (although we prefer preventing injuries before they occur). If they find a victim unconscious and the injury is unknown,that are trained to treat any unknown injury as a suspected neck back injury. Just last week this happened.

A man was suddenly floating face down in shallow water although there was no warning of any difficulty prior to this sudden situation. It was obvious that this was a medical induced situation since the person had not been struggling which would have been the case in a simple water rescue scenario. As OCBP protocol requires, the guards treated the victim as if they had a neck back injury along with performing CPR since they found no pulse. The victim had none of the signs or symptoms of a spinal injury such as abrasions or a nose bleed that might indicate impact with the ocean floor. However, the SRT’s continued to treat the victim as if there was a potential injury to the head, neck or back, even while performing lifesaving CPR. Later we found out the victim indeed did have a fracture to one of the cervical vertebrae in their spinal column which was the cause of the sudden medical emergency.

Being aware of the dangers that could occur in the ocean is the first step to prevention. Diving or doing flips in shallow water as well as riding waves that are breaking on the beach could lead to serious injuries or death.  Never underestimate the power of the ocean, keep yourself and your loved ones safe by always checking with the SRT on duty about daily surf conditions at your beach. SRTs are more than happy to answer any questions that beach goers may have.

Captain’s Note: The emergency that is described in this article would have turned out very differently had this occurred while the beach patrol was off duty. Again, it is a reminder to only go in the ocean when the SRT’s are on duty 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.


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