Aloha Pat

We’re all really mad at that groundhog that it doesn’t feel like spring, but this weekend is the start of the biggest spring break weekend. The Beach Patrol’s pace accelerates rapidly because the first wave of our seasonal lifeguards come back and do their annual requalification swim and other requirements and head out to the lifeguard towers.

Tomorrow morning is also a tryout day followed by the start of a 9 day lifeguard academy immediately afterward. If you know someone that’s interested it’s not too late for them to meet us at 7am at the UTMB Field House. Information is available on our website.

Our fulltime staff has done a fantastic job of getting everything ready for the beach season. The Park Board Beach Maintenance Department put the towers out on the beach for us and our crew has taken care of the last details of proper signage, flag poles, etc so they’d be ready for the guards. They’ve also gone out and done another round of maintenance on the 300 signs that we maintain along all 33 miles of beachfront- no easy task in the weather we’ve been having. There’s a great deal of prep work that goes into preparing everything for the lifeguard academy, which is a pretty involved deal involving Red Cross and United States Lifesaving Association certifications, along with all the scheduling of facilities and instructors and revising course materials. But it’s all done (and much more) and we’re ready.

We’re starting the season off on a sad note this year. Pat McCloy, a long time Beach Patrol supporter, died early this week. She and her late husband Dr. Jim McCloy of Texas A&M Galveston were always there for us and for many other groups on the island. We’re helping her close friend and former Director of Beach Patrol, Vic Maceo, to organize a paddle out ceremony at around 2pm today at Stewart Beach, which is open to anyone who is interested. Several years ago we participated in a similar one at the same spot for Jim. Friends of Pat and Jim, lifeguards, beach people and others will follow the Polynesian tradition and paddle boards to a point offshore and make a circle. We will then put her ashes in the water along with flowers. There will be prayers, stories, or silence as we say goodbye/aloha to Pat and watch her ashes dissolve in the same waters that hold her lifelong partner’s. They were real ocean lovers and inseparable in life. It seems fitting that they will finally rejoin in the water. Thank you from all of us Pat and travel well in the next phase of your journey.

As lifeguards and rescuers we know we can’t dwell long on the past or even the future. We need to be present and focused when the tourists arrive and need us to help them get home safely. Pat of all people would understand this and cheer us onward into a new beach season.

Winter Dangers

For those who have not heard, there was a terrible accident last weekend involving a couple of kayakers in West Bay. The Galveston Daily News did a comprehensive story on it, but in a nutshell two kayakers were capsized by strong currents and one managed to make it to a channel marker post where he hung on until a boat arrived. At the time of writing this, one of the men is still missing. This incident is only part of a larger safety picture, and hopefully can be used to prevent similar incidents.

With recent water temps in the low 50’s and even high 40’s, getting out on the water requires more foresight and preparation than during warmer months. A quick dip in the water when you’re a couple miles from shore can become a serious thing without proper gear. Kayakers, surfers, kite-boarders, stand-up paddlers, etc. should not only wear a wetsuit, but should have the appropriate wetsuit for the activity and conditions. When at all appropriate it’s a really good idea to not just bring a lifejacket, but to wear it. That way when the unexpected happens you’re able to float and wait for help long after the cold water prevents swimming.

Each spring when the air starts to warm but the water is still cold the conditions are ripe for sea fog. This fog can appear all at once or as a white bank that rolls in. Our Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office, one of the best in the country, is very tuned in to the aquatic environment and puts out all kinds of relevant marine warnings. Last weekend there was a fog advisory, but localized fog can happen without warning. Rescue workers from all agencies associated with the “Galveston Marine Response” coalition were kept busy when several kayakers and boaters got lost in fog in West Bay and the San Luis Pass area over the weekend. Some were really close to shore. In fact, at the San Luis Pass, a fast acting Galveston Fire Department crew was smart enough to go to the area that a kayaker entered the water and blast their siren continuously until the kayaker paddled back in following the sound.

Aside from proper attire and a Coast Guard approved lifejacket there are a few other things you should do before getting on the water. First, be sure someone has very specific and accurate information about where you’re going and what times you’ll be out. Having participated in hundreds of searches for people, I can tell you the better starting point a rescuer has, the more likely he/she is to locate the missing person. Make sure your cell phone is charged and in a waterproof case. If you have a smart phone, there are apps that can help you find your way around, but don’t rely on electronics! A small watch compass has gotten me out of a jam more than once.

Most importantly, take a moment to think of all the things that could go wrong before getting on the water, then plan accordingly.

 

 

Pool Update

Our first lifeguard tryouts of the year are just around the corner on March 14th. If you know anyone who’s interested, information is available on our website at www.galvestonislandbeachpatrol.org . We have a new short recruiting and information video on our homepage as well, so check it out to see all our local lifeguard stars.

Our full time crew has been racking up the road miles lately recruiting lifeguards at area high schools and colleges. It’s always a challenge to get enough qualified lifeguard candidates each year that can pass our swim requirement, which is much harder than what a pool or waterpark needs. We always get a good number from the various area high school swim teams, but without a community pool there is a pretty small group of local swimmers to pick from. That’s one of the many reasons we are excited about the prospect of actually having a public swimming pool here on the island! For those of you that have not heard the latest on this project, they’ve made significant progress.

The swimming pool committee asked for and received an extension from the Moody Foundation regarding their challenge grant, we have until Dec 2015 to generate the balance of the project to get the match. Thus far, a little over $2.12 million has been raised, leaving about $1.6 M to go.  153 individuals have contributed over $62,000.  There are about a $1 million in grants to assorted foundations, people, and state sources pending.

It will only take $50 per person on the island and we will be breaking ground!

There is a big community wide treasure sale coming up March 13-15 at McGuire Dent’s gym.  They need donations of stuff, volunteers to work the sale, and of course we all need to go out and support.

The plan now includes a wall of fame where donations greater than $100 will be recognized in a mural at the entrance to the pool.

The hope is to eventually offer swim lessons for every 2nd or 3rd grader in Galveston and to train a local workforce for all the lifeguard related jobs on the island.  Our residents can’t compete for those good paying summer jobs if they never have the opportunity to learn to swim.

It’s still planned for Lasker Park, 43rd and Q. There will be two pools, one recreational with slides and play features, and one competition ready with 8 lanes x 25 yds. The tennis courts will remain and off street parking will be added. The practice football fields will be rotated and a marked walking trail around the block will be measured off.  The city was kind enough to re-engineer 43rd street so as it is repaired this spring all necessary drainage, water lines and utilities will be upgraded to be ready for the pool.

Donations can be made out to the Galveston Community Swimming Pool and mailed to: 2222 28th street, Galveston, TX 77551. All credit cards accepted at 409-621-3177.

Sand Project

Have you been to the western edge of the seawall? If not, swing by and check it out. As you look west you’ll see… a big new beach!

This project, the first and smallest of three scheduled to happen this year, has completed 80,000 of the planned 118,000 cubic yards of sand planned. It’s a vulnerable area with the fastest eroding beach on the island. Among other things and for obvious reasons, it’s the first area our Emergency Operation Center worries about during times of flooding from high tides.

The parts of the project that relate to ensuring we get beach quality sand placed with a minimal margin of error are interesting. Sand sources are permitted through the US Army Corp of Engineers and are subject to a rigorous review which includes input from various regulatory agencies, including US Fish and Wildlife, Texas General Land Office, US Army Corp of Engineers, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and others.

The sand is being dredged from the bay side of the island and is being moved to the site by trucks, where it is then piped to a specific location.  As is typical in a dredge project, a bit of other material has ended on the beach.  Monitors have been placed on each end of the pipeline and debris is being removed as it becomes apparent.  Teams are reviewing the beach daily and collecting any debris that escapes the monitoring process.

Although all the sand placed on the beach will eventually no longer be easily evident, a significant portion will remain visible. The rest migrates out to the area of the third sandbar and sits in about 10 feet of water. Many of you will remember back in the mid 90’s when we did that giant nourishment project on the seawall. At first the sand was all the way out to the end of the jetties, but eventually settled about a third of the way out. The rest stays near shore and moves around.  This movement of sand contributes to the development of an overall healthy beach and was taken into account in the design for the beach profile.

Eventually the long-shore current moves some sand to other parts of the beach. Beaches are dynamic and evolve over time.  In the winter, sand moves out to near-­shore bars.  The gentle waves of summer then return sand from the bars back to the beach.  Beach nourishment will not stop the shoreline from receding in eroding areas, but it will delay it.  Beach nourishment increases the life span of the shore and prolongs the benefits that beaches bring our island.  Around the country the majority of tourist beach areas are periodically re-nourished because the revenue they bring in and the infrastructure they protect far exceeds the re-nourishment costs .

This project is the beginning of a 50 year sand management plan designed by the Engineering and Research Development Center of the US Army Corp of Engineers and will hopefully mark the beginning of an ongoing, periodic process by which we can protect and maintain our delicate shoreline.

Snapshot

A sea of hands are raised in the Galveston school while students struggle to keep their bottoms on the gym floor. Supervisor/Officer Kris Pompa surveys the crowd and picks a young man way in the back. “What do you think?” The little boy says, “Lifeguards are there to protect people from sharks and undertoads”. Kris chuckles and says, “Close! But the main reason lifeguards are on the beach is to protect people from dangerous currents when they swim in the water. But we protect people from other things too. We even tell people when they’re starting to get sunburned. We also enforce rules and help kids who get lost find their parents.”

Meanwhile, at a mainland high school, Supervisor Mary Stewart is talking to the swim team about what beach lifeguards do every day. “…. After you finish your morning workout and skills training, you have 45 minutes to check out your flag bag and radio and get to your tower. Once on location you clean the tower, put your flags up and swim the rip current to see how hard it’s running and how deep it is there. Then your main job is to keep people away from the rocks, see if anyone needs help, and do whatever you can to keep people from harm. Every day we train, and on Sundays anyone can enter the weekly competitions. Most of my friends are on Beach Patrol and it’s a great bunch of people. I hope you guys will come try out, most of our guards are either on swim teams or were at one time.”

On the seawall, around 37th street Supervisor/Officer Josh Hale and Supervisor Lauren Hollaway pull over to check on a young surfer that is hanging off the side of his board in the rip current by the jetty. They watch him for a bit to make sure he’s able to get back on his board and paddle back out to the lineup. Turns out he’s OK and they don’t have to jump in the 56 degree water to help him. They drive on to the next cluster of surfers at 27th street while scanning the seawall for any problems or anyone needing a hand.

At headquarters in the garage Supervisor/Officer Joe Cerdas is finishing some work on a new rack system he’s been intermittently working on between other jobs, patrolling, and special activities. Upstairs Captain Tony Pryor is putting the finishing touches on the next employee schedule while Lieutenant Kara Harrison solicits bids for some equipment that needs to be ordered.

This is a snapshot of an average day for the full time staff of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol during the “down season”. Soon we’ll have all 100 of our seasonal workers back and we’ll finish up our annual school water safety talks and recruiting visits. Maintenance and administrative duties continue all year but the focus will be almost completely on the millions of beach patrons that visit the beach each year.

And so it begins!

 

Dobbins

The older guard pointed to the west side of the 47th street groin as he pulled the jeep over quickly. “Look at that rip, let’s go check it out!” he yelled as the pair sprinted down the rocks and jumped off a rock that was “just right”. The older guard then made them climb up the rocks again despite the churning surf, algae, and barnacles. Over and over the pair climbed up and jumped back into the surf before getting back in the jeep and racing up and down the seawall moving swimmers and checking on guards.

I worked with Jim Dobbins on weekends during the mid 80’s. The days were full and active. Lunches generally lasted about 15 minutes and consisted of a quick bowl of rice in his beachside apartment. I learned a great deal.

He taught the guards how to work the rocks. In those years a guard worked a groin all summer and Jim knew each rock of each groin. He taught guards where it was “safe” to jump from, and how to move around on the rocks without getting cut up. An avid surfer, he knew the rip currents well, and taught the guards how to use them to get to a victim quickly. He was a ball of energy as he made each guard that worked the seawall swim his/her area each morning so they would know exactly where the holes and currents were for the day (a practice that we continue to this day). He was relentless in stressing the importance of getting to someone before they actually got in trouble.

Dr. Jim Dobbins was an Epidemiologist working as a professor at UTMB in those years. As a teacher, he didn’t like being away from hands on preventative work in his field. With the Beach Patrol he was able to put theory into practice in the direct prevention of injury on Galveston’s beaches. He went on to work for the Center for Disease Control in a research program and later was employed by the World Health Organization. With the W.H.O he was able to once again take a hands-on approach as the guy who was tasked with handling potential infectious disease outbreaks in the Caribbean.

On Jim’s first day of work he responded to 7 people on inner tubes getting pushed into the South Jetty under extreme conditions. He was able to push them through a gap one by one and finally able to get himself through. He was shredded by rocks and exhausted but committed to preventing this type of thing from happening. He devised a strategy where people were kept far from the jetty, which we still employ.

Now in his 70’s Jim visits Galveston periodically. He likes to talk about the old days. But I think he really enjoys seeing how proactive we’ve become as an agency. Many of the techniques we use to keep people from ever getting into trouble today are based on strategies he implemented. After all, prevention is the essence of both Epidemiology and Lifesaving.

 

Dobbins

 

Lauren Hollaway

In 1997, six year old Lauren Hollaway started swimming for the Galveston Island Swim Team and 4 years later started as a Galveston Island Beach Patrol Junior Lifeguard along with other future guards Laura Carr, Jessica Riedel, Anna Hyatt, Bori Juhasz, and Mary Stewart.

Still 10, she told her dad she wanted her own Beach Patrol truck one day. She was able to compete in the United States Lifesaving Association National Competitions in places like Daytona Beach, Virginia Beach, and Huntington Beach.

At 16, she tried out for Beach Patrol along with a whole bunch of other Junior Lifeguards. She worked hard and moved up the ranks.

She graduated Ball High School in 2009. In 2013, she graduated from Tulane with a Bachelor’s in Science Management- Marketing and Finance. Upon graduation she worked in Houston doing marketing for a sportswear company. Having grown up on the beach she didn’t like city life or the urban lifestyle. She missed being by the water and when an opening came up she applied for a position as a full time Lifeguard Supervisor for the Beach Patrol.

When asked why she wants to work as a career lifeguard she said she “loves  interacting with the public, raising public awareness related to beach safety, and how we as an organization share our passion for the beach and for the safety of others”. She says “you can see the difference you can make in a beachgoer’s life just through a small interaction”.

She always appreciated supervisors she had coming up who took extra time to mentor a young guard. Supervisors like Amie Hufton, Loree Pryor, and Gretchen Tyson were big influences on her and are largely responsible for her love of “the family aspect that is so integral to this job”.

She finds the biggest challenge to be showing new guards how to best interact with the public, especially teaching conflict resolution strategies and how to enforce rules. Once, as a young guard, she expressed her frustration with a beach patron to Loree Pryor who immediately asked her, “When you’re on vacation, do you think about your own safety?” This put it in perspective for Lauren. You have to be able to meet people where they are and understand their situation/point of view before you can reach resolution.

Another challenge is teaching the true understanding that the beach environment is in a constant state of flux. She says that “Getting this concept to the newer lifeguards is particularly challenging because they’re nervous and rigid, and not used to such a changing environment. There are no guard rails or bumpers at the beach”.

She says “This organization has opened so many doors for me… being able to handle such responsibility at a young age because of my experiences working the beach has been an invaluable life experience and has equipped me to deal with a variety of circumstances…[It] gives a broader perspective and keeps you grounded. Once you’ve dealt with life and death, normal day to day issues seems pretty manageable.”