Big Rescue

Time slowed as I jumped off the wall and ran to the water. I noticed two groups of people in the water and a woman running out. A group of four was ¾ of the way out to the end of the 33rd street groin and right in the middle of the “no swimming” area. Another group of three was near the end of the groin. There was no sign of a struggle from either group, but I noticed that Lifeguard David Garcia was in the first group and supporting all three with some difficulty. Lifeguard Camilo Murillo was past the first group headed to the second, but at least two of the three looked to be calmly floating. I high stepped, then dolphin dove, then put on my fins and swam to the first group to help David.

Last Sunday was beautiful with water like glass and almost no wind or waves. But there were left over troughs by the groins from the current that had been running for the previous week. These deep spots funneled what little current there was in a gentle rip current pulling away from the shore.

David looked tired and asked if I could take a man who appeared to be floating on his back. He then swam off with two kids towards shore. I started securing him and talking to him before and realizing he wasn’t breathing. A quick check showed he didn’t seem to have a pulse either. Knowing by where he was he couldn’t have been under longer than a minute or two, I knew that our standard procedure of bringing him to shore then starting CPR might be too long for his brain to go without oxygen. I gave him a breath and swam towards shore supporting his head. Senior Lifeguard Hallie Pauling swam up and asked if I needed help. I pointed at the group farther out and told her to help Camilo. Two more rescue breaths interspaced with short swims got me to chest deep water where David met me followed by Supervisor Brandon Venegas. We brought him to shore and, hoping that his system was oxygenated, I started chest compressions while Brandon set up the oxygen kit. David went to check on the other victims and then back to his assigned tower at 37th to continue lifeguarding. EMS and Fire were there and jumped in to intubate and start Advanced Life Support.

Three people were transported to the hospital, two adult men and one child. All were fine at the time of writing this save the one we did CPR on, but he’d been moved to ICU and was reportedly stable although still intubated.

David was working the early shift at tower at 37 and, incredibly, spotted the group 4 blocks away. Tower 33 wasn’t guarded yet. David won our “Night Swim” competition this year. The whole team, including our partner agencies, did a great job. But if David hadn’t been so incredibly alert, quick thinking, and such a great athlete, this would have resulted in multiple lives lost.

Teamwork Across Texas Agencies

It has been a rough summer on the upper Texas coast up to this point and this has led to some cause and effect incidents that are both interesting and tragic. We’ve had a persistent strong wind for most of the season, resulting in strong lateral current and surf. This has, in turn, led to almost constant strong rip currents near structures and occasional strong rip currents along the open beach. It’s also the reason the troughs between the sand bars have been so unusually deep, even near to the shoreline.

Partly because of the conditions and large crowds there has been a number of heart wrenching water related deaths all along our entire stretch of coastline. But as a result there have been some pretty interesting developments recently that have potential to reduce similar incidents in the future.

A friend from the Sheriff Office contacted me awhile ago to explore the option of synchronizing some of our water safety efforts. It looks like for starters they will be using a modified version of our water safety material on their website and will even use the widget from our flag warning system. This means that if we post a red flag warning of rough surf and dangerous currents the same flag warning will show on their website as well. People can sign up to receive notifications via email or text when we set the flag color for the day and if we change it. Also, if we post special advisories for extra strong rip currents, off shore winds, air or water quality warnings, etc., those warnings will include the Bolivar Peninsula. Additionally, I met with Bolivar County parks representatives recently and they are exploring several options including that of flag warning stations like we have on the seawall, at beach parks, and on the back of lifeguard towers.

As we all know the San Luis Pass has been a problem for years. We’ve reduced the average number of drowning on the Galveston side by an ordinance banning swimming and, more recently, greatly increased signage and dedicated weekend patrols throughout the summer. On holiday weekends we even have help from the County “Citizens Emergency Response Team” or C.E.R.T. These volunteers augment our efforts at keeping people out of the dangerous waters there. This week I spoke at a Brazoria County Commissioners Court meeting about the history and dangers of the area as well as what we’re doing on our side. They are very interested in increasing their drowning prevention efforts. They’ve already put signs on their side which are very similar to ours. They’re looking at putting a law in place similar to our ordinance. This is a great thing.

Quintana and Surfside Beaches are also exploring options.  With re-vamped lifeguard programs at Port Aransas and Corpus now meeting the United States Lifesaving Association national standards as well as the two relatively new lifeguard services at South Padre island the dream of a more standardized network of protective programs for Texas beaches seems to be in reach.