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Ocean City

ON GUARD 09/13/2013

Kristin Joson

With less personnel, OCBP reduces coverage

The Ocean City Beach Patrol has been providing reduced coverage since the third week in August. This reduction in personnel, which occurs annually, is complicated by the early start of college classes and the return of education professionals to school systems throughout the United States. This includes our local Worcester County public schools, which had students begin a week prior to Labor Day.

Reduced coverage is a reduction in available staff and extends until the Sunday of Sunfest weekend (the third Sunday following Labor Day), Sept. 22.  During this reduced coverage, staffing levels will be far less than the OCBP’s mid-season deployment. The beach patrol 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 the Beach Patrol’s 200 employees during the last weeks of summer.   Historically, the beach patrol has needed to begin reducing coverage beginning with the third week in August as its staffing levels decreased to approximately 60 percent of the mid-season deployment.

However, this year hasn’t been as challenging as the past few, and the number of stands deployed on a daily basis has been slightly higher than in recent years. This is a direct result of targeted recruiting and several of the surf rescue technicians, lifeguards, making a conscious effort and planning on working full time until the final day of the season.  At this time of the year, the Beach Patrol relies more heavily on the local educators along with other additional returning surf rescue technicians who 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, the Beach Patrol increases the number of mobil rescue units patrolling the beach.

Further impacting our situation at the end of the season is the typical increase in tropical storm activity in the Atlantic as well as approaching hurricanes, although, thankfully this has not been as big an issue this year.  They do their fair share of stirring up some rough surf.  The heavier surf contributes to the frequency and severity of rip currents that form along the beaches of Ocean City and pose an increased danger to swimmers.  Although not as severe as recent years, the Beach Patrol has 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 beachgoers to take extra precautions and walk the short distance to swim in the vicinity of a surf rescue technician on a stand.  Or better yet, people should just swim directly in front of the lifeguard.

Because of the dedication and commitment of its staff, the Beach Patrol will be able to continue providing coverage for all 10 miles of Ocean City beaches until Sunday, Sept. 22.  Although this coverage will be done with fewer personnel and fewer lifeguard towers, the coverage will be supplemented by increasing the number of mobil rescue units patrolling the beach.  These mobile units are first-aid and AED equipped with one surf rescue technician acting as the primary rescue swimmer while the other surf r escue t technician maintains radio communication and backup during an emergency. Both are qualified as surf rescue technicians, medical first responders and are quad (ATV) certified.

Surf rescue technicians 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.  The Beach Patrol strongly encourage all beach patrons to restrict any beach or water-related activities to times when its 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 2013 season, this is also the time when the Beach Patrol starts testing for new lifeguards for 2014 and begin focusing on its staffing needs for next season.  During the planning for next season,  the Beach Patrol will review statistics and data and will make decisions on the number and placement of lifeguard stands.  To begin reaching its recruiting goals, the Beach Patrol held a test Aug. 10  and Aug. 31 and  offered appointments to next season’s Surf Rescue Academies to 38 highly qualified candidates.  If any additional staff members are needed for next season, the Beach Patrol will hold additional pre-employment physical skills evaluations.

Those evaluations may take place during the winter at colleges in the mid-Atlantic region or in Ocean City in late May and June. Those individuals who qualify will receive an appointment to a paid Surf Rescue Academy in May or June 2014 where all training and certifications will be provided.  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 more information about the testing or training of beach patrol hopefuls click on the JOBS button on www.ococean.com/ocbp.  For daily locations of surf rescue technicians, call beach patrol headquarters at 410-289-7556.

Always remember, “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard’s in the stand!” For safety, swim directly in front of the nearest surf rescue technician and only swim when lifeguards are on duty.

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