(Aug. 1, 2014) It is hard to believe August is here. So far this summer we have enjoyed some very pleasant beach days with very little humidity.
August typically brings hot, humid temperatures and rougher ocean conditions as tropical storm activity gets more prevalent. As the Atlantic Basin experience more storm activity, it will begin to push larger more frequent waves onto our beaches. With this activity, rip currents, shore break, and what some people refer to as “great body boarding waves” develop and have the potential to create 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.
In addition to our slogan, “ Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard is in the stand” we have recently been recommending that beach patrons introduce themselves and their children to the SRT on duty and ask about the current water conditions for the day. The lifeguards are happy to answer any questions. They have information about 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 Brazil to share our training materials and have been featured presenters at several statewide Emergency Medical Services symposiums.
As we network with other beach patrols around the world, we all agree that 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, make sure 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. If they find a victim unconscious and the injury is unknown, the SRTs are trained to treat any unknown injury as a suspected neck back injury. Lifeguards will often be alerted to beach patrons with facial abrasions from hitting their head on the ocean bottom. Sometimes people will come up to the guard and tell them they feel tingling after being slammed by a wave. Beach patrol protocol requires, the guards treat these situations as if the victim has a neck or back injury.
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. We are glad you are here and we want to help you stay safe.
Captain’s note: Just this past week, we had a young male sustain a paralyzing neck injury at 4 a.m. Although he will be paralyzed for life, had friends and witnesses not drug his motionless body from the surf he would surly have drown. This is an example of a preventable accident and we will never know if the way he was pulled from the surf is what caused the spinal cord damage or not, but had this occurred during the beach patrol’s working hours, at least we know the quality care he would have received. Never enter the ocean when the beach patrol is not on duty.