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.”