Canine Rescue

Supervisor/Officer Joe Cerdas was on his way to work early the other day in his personal car. He lives on the west end and was just nearing the end of the seawall. It was in the height of tropical storm Bill and the wind was blasting, so he was driving carefully. Suddenly his radio crackled as an emergency call came through.

Apparently a man had been on the edge of the seawall looking at the huge surf as it bashed against the seawall and sent plumes of foam over the top of the wall. The tide was really high so you could hardly see the rocks at the base of the wall as wave after wave pounded in. His dog became excited and jumped off the wall.

The west end of the seawall has long been a trouble spot for the Beach Patrol. When the current sweeps from west to east people can get caught in the ever present rip current at western side of the wall and swept around in front of the wall. They can’t swim back the way they came, and there’s no beach in front of the seawall. When the tide is high and there are waves, you have to get over the rocks while the waves break on you. Then, you have to find a stairwell, and there aren’t many in the area. We’ve made many dramatic rescues using rescue boards to ride people over the rocks, often with the fire department lifting them up the wall.

As Joe pulled up he looked over the wall to see the 80 pound dog in big trouble. The poor dog’s pads were bleeding from multiple attempts to climb to the top of the wall, only to be repeatedly dragged down the wall between waves.

A GPD K9 unit and the animal control unit arrived right behind Joe.

He grabbed a rope from the animal control unit that was being used to try and lasso the dog. He then asked the officers and bystanders to lower him down the seawall so he could grab it. The plan was that once he had the dog they could pull him up and over the seawall.

He improvised a harness which he tied around himself and was then lowered down the seawall.

His first attempt to grab the dog was unsuccessful as a wave hit them both, causing him to lose his grip as he was tossed around by the powerful surf. On the second wave he was able to grab the dog and place him higher on his shoulder which gave him a more secure grip on the big canine.

As the peace officers and bystanders hauled them up, they were hit by numerous waves which slammed them against the wall. But Joe held fast and didn’t lose his grip.

As they finally neared the top of the wall, Joe passed the dog to his owner, and then he pulled himself over the top of the wall to safety.

All we heard on the radio was:

“Cerdas back in, one canine rescue”.

FOT6AA8

BBQ and Recognition

It’s been a rough summer. The guards have performed under all kinds of adverse conditions admirably. Come support them tonight for our 18th annual BBQ fundraiser. This is the beach party of the year with well over a thousand Lifeguards, Junior Guards, water people, beach lovers and supporters of the various groups that work so hard to keep our beaches safe, clean, and enjoyable.

This year we’ll have it in our traditional spot at 24th and Post office and the base will be the Press Box from 6-10. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet you can buy one at the door. Music provided by DJ Joe Rios and luau style BBQ cooked up and served by the Galveston Rugby Team. There will be a silent auction as well. Proceeds benefit the Lifeguards and Junior Guards and help cover the cost of competing at the national lifeguard championships and various water safety projects. The Press Box is owned by none other than Rudy Betancourt, long time Beach Patrol Lifeguard and 100% G-Town local.

Last week we had the honor of giving awards to all the groups that came together to support the search for the 12 year old girl who drowned at 56th street. An unbelievable amount of volunteers, including family members, aided in the search. Food and lodging were provided while public safety personnel from a myriad of agencies spent untold amounts of time searching. We wanted to do something to recognize them. The sensitivity, perseverance, and altruism these scores of people showed is hard to describe. The intent was not to detract in any way from the unbelievable loss that the family is facing. While acknowledging that, our hope was to simultaneously recognize that there is an emotional component to the work the first responders do and they have a need for some type of closure to the incident as well. Hard tightrope to walk.

The Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network spent three days with the family providing counseling, translation, and information regarding the search efforts. The Red Roof Inn and 4 Seasons provided rooms and an area for the families of two separate events to base. Tortugas, Kroger, and the Lighthouse Charity Team brought food. The US Coast Guard spent hours of air and water time. Texas Parks and Wildlife put two boats in the water to search, the Sheriff Office and Galveston Police Department Marine Division were ever-present, and the Galveston Fire Department did everything in their power to help. The Galveston County Community Emergency Response Team came out multiple days using volunteer labor to try to speed up the recovery process. They even allowed for walk up volunteer labor at their command post.

It’s not enough. It never can be. But I people have a basic desire to do whatever it is we can do to help others when they need it most. All these groups did everything they could and, at the very least, they showed their love and support through their actions.

 

Beach Patrol Fundraiser Poster2

Sandbars

I got an interesting call from a local woman who told me to write about what it means to “step off a sandbar” and why that can cause someone to drown. The woman, now in her 90’s, said when she was young she had to hand her 3 year old to someone else and trust him to bring her child to shore when she “stepped off a sandbar” herself.

Most of what we focus on in beach safety involves rip currents. Rip currents, responsible for 80% of rescues in the ocean (and presumably drownings) run roughly perpendicular to shore and are formed when water brought in by waves has to find a way back out past the surf zone. In Texas our strongest and most predominant rip currents are formed near a structure like a jetty. This is why we recommend people stay away from the rocks and why we post our towers on the seawall near the groins. If you’re caught in one, float with it and you’ll likely return to shore on your own. If you’re a good swimmer, try swimming parallel to shore, but never try to swim directly into a rip current (directly to shore).

The phrase “stepping off a sandbar” refers to times when someone is standing in relatively shallow water and currents or waves push them from the shallow sandbar into a trough where the water is deeper. Just as is the case with rip currents, if you simply relax and float you’ll be fine, but bad things happen when people panic or choke on water.

At our beaches we have a sandbar and trough system, both of which run parallel to the shoreline. As you walk into the water from shore you’ll step into deeper water, then shallower water, than deeper, shallower, and so on. Gradually it gets deeper and deeper but we have 4-5 sandbars and troughs before it gets deep enough for the bottom to level off. The sandbars farther from shore need bigger waves to break on them but the first couple are easy to spot by the breaking waves even from shore. Waves break in water about 1.3 times their height, so an experienced guard or person can tell water depth by looking at the waves. The waves don’t break in the deeper water so the troughs are calm looking areas between the sandbars.

The difference in depth between the sandbars and troughs is exacerbated by long shore current, which runs parallel to shore. The longer and harder it runs, the deeper the troughs. Generally when the current lets up the bottom levels off to normal in a couple of days, but this past week it was so calm that the normal “jiggling” of the bottom sand didn’t happen and there was a neck deep trough very near the shoreline all week.

Generally the most important way to be safe is to swim near a lifeguard, but it’s also a good idea to stay in shallower water than you would in an artificial environment.

GC Speech

Galveston Police Department Chief Henry Porretto and I both sit on the advisory board for the Galveston College Law Enforcement Academy. Last week we both had the honor to speak to the graduating class. Chief Porretto did an excellent talk about the core values of a peace officer, so I chose to focus on the idea of compassion through public safety work. In light of last week’s drowning of a 12 year old girl, excerpts of this seem especially poignant and I’d like to share them with you.

“…there’s something special about each of you that put you in this room today. You want to- you need to- make a difference.

A peace officer is entrusted with unbelievable power. The ability to take away someone’s freedom should never be taken lightly. You have trained and will continue to train on how to do that responsibly and professionally while protecting you, the public, and fellow officers as much as possible. But that isn’t the most powerful tool in your tool belt. Nor is your weapons and self-defense training, or even all that information crammed in your head right now…

…You have chosen a career that will put you with people on the worst day of their entire lives. It is one of the most intimate moments that humans experience. It is during these moments- these horrible times- that our lives fork. There are few moments in all of our lives where we knowingly or unknowingly choose a path that becomes destiny. You will be with people as they go through this. And it’s not like in the movies with fuzzy light and perfect skin and sparkly backgrounds. Normally reasonable people will be bleeding, spitting, cussing, fighting, and they may focus all their hate on you during this time. They will at these times be at their most… unlovable. And you have the horrible responsibility and unbelievable privilege of sharing these moments with them. Your actions in these brief moments can determine the course of their lives- and those of everyone they’re connected to.

Most of what emergency responders do, particularly peace officers, isn’t black and white. It is in this grey area that you can use the most powerful tool in your possession. It’s in this grey area that your power is the greatest, you’re integrity shines brightest, and your choices the most critical. Officer discretion. Some people need to go to jail. Others don’t need any help from you. But a large percentage of your calls are in that grey zone. Use your power of discretion to do what good cops do best. Solve problems and show compassion. The choices you make during these moments will affect the rest of their lives- and the lives of people they are close to or even who they encounter.

In those intimate moments you share with complete strangers your compassion can be the drop that causes the ripple that makes the difference.”…