GMR

The two men were paddling a canoe about half a mile off of their dock on sportsman road when they turned over and were thrown in the water. They were not wearing life jackets and the water was cold. Although they could swim they began to tire quickly as their heat and energy were sucked away. Their movements became slower and slower as they struggled to maintain their heads above water.

Fortunately, unbeknownst to them, someone spotted them from the porch of a house with binoculars and called 911. As they gradually lost their battle with the elements, help was on its way in the form of the Galveston Fire Department, Jamaica Beach Fire Rescue, Galveston Police Department, Galveston EMS, and the Beach Patrol. This coordinated rescue team, the Galveston Marine Response (G.M.R.) all worked off a shared radio channel to figure out how best to effect a rescue using the available resources. The fire and police departments arrived and searched the area to locate the victims while others brought boats from the nearest staged locations. EMS staged in the most likely place for the rescuers to return to shore.

From the Beach Patrol perspective, Supervisors Kris Pompa and Lauren Holloway grabbed the jet ski we keep staged at 61st street and headed directly to the nearest launch site from the incident. By the time they arrived at the Sportsman Road boat launch, the other responders had a good visual on the overturned canoe. Kris and Lauren pulled up to find someone they knew pulling up in a boat. To save the time it would take to launch they asked if they could jump in, and the boat went straight to the accident site.

When they approached one of the guys was swimming around, but the other was starting to go under. Kris grabbed his rescue tube and dove off the boat. As Kris brought the victim to the boat after making the rescue, the other guy swam over and they helped him in the boat. Heading back quickly to the dock, EMS checked out the two guys, both suffering from mild hypothermia.

This story had a happy ending because of the same teamwork that these agencies employ all year. Sometimes Jamaica Beach will have the closest boat, other times with will be GFD or GPD. But now that we have a system in place, more people with more qualifications get to these water emergencies more rapidly. And save more lives.

Last weekend the same groups, along with the crews from Ironman, a kayak club, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary all coordinated together to get 1,900 or so triathletes through the mile long swim course. 22 rescues and 208 swim assists were effected, but everyone left in good condition. Later that day some of the same people from the same groups saw each other several more times as we dealt with various beach emergencies. And there will be many more to come.

The busy season is just starting.

Snakes and Social Media

I love spring on the beach. Fog, sun, hot, cold, empty beach, people. It’s a time of transition that doubles back on itself repeatedly. One day it’s cold and empty and foggy and the next it’s warm and there are a couple hundred thousand people swimming around.

One thing that always entertains when the world starts to warm is that lots of people suddenly re-realize that the beach is part of the natural environment. I guess they forget over the winter that it’s not just a big water park, but is instead a thriving ecosystem with fish, birds, crabs, jellyfish, and even snakes. Realistically, the threat of these creatures is extremely minimal when compared to the risks of driving to the beach through traffic or swimming in areas known to have rip currents. But the news is always looking for a new angle. Giving the old “Spring Break” coverage a makeover by adding some footage of a shark being pulled up by a fishermen or the rare sighting of a snake that ventured out of his normal home of a sand dune does the trick nicely.

Of course the best way to avoid any unpleasant encounter is to keep your eyes open, obey warning signs, and to follow safety recommendations. Some of the most important of these would be not to mix drinking with driving or swimming, swimming near a lifeguard, avoiding areas near groins, and shuffling your feet when walking through the water.

Despite some of us realizing the natural environment is… well, natural, Spring Break went really well overall. Somehow the weather worked out to be just about perfect. Lots of foggy or cool mornings followed up by sunny weather in the 80’s. The water cooperated as well with temperature around 70 (cool but bearable), and moderate to mild surf conditions. Many of our guards were back “riding the pine” and they were hard at work. We got by with very few serious incidents but the guards collectively moved over 2,500 people out of dangerous areas with rip currents, submerged debris, or too far from shore. They worked hard and spent a lot of time in the frigid water. Hard to imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t been out there though. The beaches were literally packed with hundreds of thousands of people.

The crowds were well behaved though. We had very few problems along the seawall or at Stewart Beach and East Beach Park (Apffel Park). There were a few issues on the west end but the Galveston Police Department handled them well as usual. Social Media is a real force to reckon with from a law enforcement and safety perspective. Crowds of hundreds of high school kids would seemingly materialize at the San Luis Pass or Sunny Beach. Finally, a couple of proactive officers got one of the revelers to tweet that the party was over and they all pretty much vanished back over the causeway.

And now we’ll do it all over again for Easter!

Spring has Sprung!

One week from today the Spring Break Crowd will be arriving. But, in case you didn’t notice, no one notified the tourists or locals that the beach season hasn’t officially started yet. The past few weekends have seen big crowds on the seawall and some brave souls have already been getting in the water for brief amounts of time.

It’s weird when you think about how things have changed over time. Although we used to see big Spring Break crowds in the 80s and early 90s, you really didn’t see much beach activity on in the early spring aside from that. And the beaches used to pretty much shut down once October hit. Now we consistently seen decent beach crowds all but two months out of the year. We’ve even dedicated at least one lifeguard mobile patrol starting in February and ending the first of December. They’re actually moving people away from the dangerous areas by the rocks and making the occasional rescue during those previously cold months. Galveston has basically turned into a year round resort. With the growth rate in the Houston area and elsewhere coupled with what is now a clear difference in average temperatures, we can expect this trend to continue, provided we continue to make sure the experience our guests receive is a safe, positive, and memorable one.

Next Saturday, March 12th, we’ll have our first lifeguard tryouts and lifeguard academy of the year. Information can be found on our website if you know anyone that’s interested. The 9 day academy is intense, and many of our potential guards who are students don’t want to “give up” their spring break. But for those who have the right stuff and are committed, it’s a very rewarding experience. Transforming people into beach guards in such a short time is painful, but when they come out on the other side they have all the tools they need to join the team that comprises Galveston’s designated lifeguard service.

The 12th is also the first day for the beach parks to open. The park staff also has quite a bit of training to go through before they’re ready to meet the onslaught of tourists. The Beach Patrol teaches CPR and First Aid to them, as well as the other Park Board employees that work with the public. They also go through a course to become Certified Tourist Ambassadors, so they are not only customer friendly, but know enough about the island to answer basically any question.

So it’s time to get out there and have some fun! But remember to swim near a lifeguard, follow the recommendations of signs and flags, avoid swimming near groins, piers, or the ends of the island, and take precautions for the heat and sun. And remember to use good common sense and keep an eye on friends and family. You’re the first line of defense. The lifeguards provide an extra layer of protection if you miss anything.

See you on the beach!

 

Heroes Around Us

Tuesday night a call dropped in the evening. The original version was a 911 call and was that there was a suicidal person that jumped off the causeway. The caller wasn’t specific about the exact area. The dispatchers called Fire, EMS, Police, and Beach Patrol (Galveston Marine Response) who all headed that way. Fire and Police grabbed their boats and we brought a jet ski and headed to Payco Marina at the base of the causeway. One of the fire trucks went to the top of the causeway to get an aerial view.

New information came in that the incident involved a car being driven into the water. Nobody found anything during an initial search. Then, another person reported that the event actually happened at the Texas City “Y” area and wasn’t in Galveston at all. Finally, everyone got confirmation there was a car in the water at the base of the north side of the railroad bridge. The Fire Department made the area first and reported that there wasn’t anyone in the water.

We all deal with many calls of this type throughout the year. The dispatchers do an excellent job of sorting through varied and sometimes conflicting reports and getting the pertinent information to the first responder agencies. But many times very different information comes in from different sources. Well meaning people aren’t aware of where they are when they see an event. It’s also not uncommon for people to call in an “emergency” as a hoax and sit and watch from somewhere nearby as we all scramble around trying to save lives. Tuesday night was an example of how professionally and unemotionally our local heroes work a call, putting aside emotions that could interfere with clear decision making. Trying to focus on that person in need and the shortest path to helping him/her, as opposed to letting ego or frustration interfere with the process.

You see these heroes every day and don’t realize it. Our military, police, fire, lifeguards, EMS, medical personnel, etc live among us. When someone chokes on food in a restaurant they are the person who calmly puts down their fork, walks over, and calmly clears the airway. When you see a wreck, they are the person who puts aside their own needs, stops their car, and helps.

There are many opportunities to join their ranks. One that’s coming up soon is our spring Lifeguard Academy which starts March 12th and finishes March 20th. There is another one in May. Those who pass the swim, interview, and drug screen will go through an intense experience that includes a high level of medical training, water rescue techniques, lifeguard training, tourist relations, surf swimming techniques, and a whole lot of physical training. For the few that pass through this crucible, some will work a season and others may make it a lifetime. But they join the ranks of our first responders permanently.

The United States Lifesaving Association has a slogan:

“Lifeguards for Life”