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Upcoming Events!

Game time!

Tomorrow morning (Saturday, May 11th) at 7am Lifeguard Candidates will line up to attempt to become Galveston Island Beach Patrol lifeguards. Those that complete the swim will be interviewed, submit to a drug screening, and join our Spring graduates in a run-swim-run challenge. If they get through all these obstacles, they’ll start the 100 hours of training needed to “ride the pine” and work as a tower lifeguard. It’s not too late to tryout. Info is at www.galvestonislandbeachpatrol.com/lifeguard . While all this is going on, returning guards who didn’t come back in the spring will be swimming, doing paper work, and taking the drug screening test. Many of them will then head out to work for their first day this season. We’re expecting 40-50 candidates to qualify for our lifeguard academy. These new guards will be a welcome addition. Not only have the crowds been unusually large for the past few weekends, but the busiest part of the year is almost on us and we need every trained and able-bodied lifeguard we can get out there to help keep the millions who visit the beaches safe.

Weather permitting there will be a lot going on this weekend with a paddle out ceremony for legendary G-town surfer Chris Hill, La Izquiera Surf Contest and Music Festival at the 91st street Fishing Pier, Bring Your Mom to the Beach Day Volleyball Tournament hosted by the Gulf Coast Volleyball Association at East Beach, Historic Homes Tour, and the Yagas wild Game Cook off. Next week is the annual Beach Review, and we’re only two weeks out from what is usually the busiest beach weekend of the year, Memorial Day Weekend.

The amount of preparation and training that has to happen each year to get all the seasonal staff, partner groups, and auxiliary staff members trained and re-trained is staggering. In addition to the Lifeguard Academy and Supervisor Training Academy within the next three weeks we’re also looking at a Dispatch Training Academy, Public Safety Responders Basic Water Rescue Course, Surf Camp Instructors Water Rescue Course, Park Board Police Firearms Requalification, and a Self Defense/De-Escalation class for our Wave Watchers. Additionally, on May 21st several first responder groups will join us for the annual “Mass Aquatic Critical Emergency Operation” (M.A.C.E.O.) at Stewart Beach. Joining us will be the Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, who will use the event as a training scenario. Additionally, the new “Tourism Pays” event will be done in conjunction with MACEO. Once the Beach Patrol and the entire beach safety net gets through all this training, we’ll be sharp for Memorial Weekend and the summer. And as anyone who visits the beach knows, we’ll need it!

One thing to watch for is our annual BBQ fundraiser which will be at the Press Box this year on Friday, June 14th. This has, for over 20 years, been the beach party of the summer, so block off your calendar. We need silent auction items, so if you’re in the giving mood contact Tricia at tlimon@galvestonparkboard.org .

Come Support Your Local Lifeguards!

We’re putting together the final pieces for the busy season. We’re finishing up a lifeguard academy, finalizing our recurrent training for seasonal lifeguards, planning an awards and promotion ceremony for our staff, and scrambling to put all the pieces in place before summer kicks in for real.
There are two events that you may want to come see next week. Tuesday evening at 5pm at Stewart Beach we’ll have a “Mass Aquatic Casualty Emergency Operation” (M.A.C.E.O.) event. Our lifeguard candidates will be rescuers, experienced guards will comprise a number of “victims”, and several of our partner emergency response agencies will make rescues, provide crowd control, triage and treat patients, and more. It’s a great way to smooth out the kinks before we all do it for real over the busy beach season.
Wed evening at 5:30pm the returning guards join the rookies for a beast of a challenge. 65 lifeguards will run, dive into the surf and swim, then paddle rescue boards, and swim again. At some point they’ll run through a series of obstacle stations. It might be a mud crawl or a rope climb. They may do calisthenics, answer questions about lifesaving, jump off rock groins, perform mock rescues or more. It’s different every year.
There will be a point somewhere where each rookie will seriously doubt his/her ability to finish. There will be a point where they question their decision to join the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. They will wonder if being part of the team is worth the pain.
The last of the guards will trickle in up to 3 hours after starting to be welcomed by a crowd of fellow lifeguards, parents, friends, community supporters, and bystanders. After a welcome ceremony the whole group relaxes and tells stories at a pizza party.
This grueling event is the final physical challenge for the lifeguard candidates. But it’s bigger than that. For over 25 years this has been a way to show the candidates that they’re capable of so much more than they thought possible, and that there’s no challenge they can’t handle. The most grueling rescue pales in comparison to this event. It’s also a way for returning guards to measure their physical condition and to compare themselves to the new group. It’s a way to meld the staff into a seamless unit.
There’s an intangible element to getting so many diverse, often independent personalities to work together seamlessly. The training, protocols, and the chain of command get us only so far. But each individual link having a deep understanding that he/she is part of the chain is key. No one goes beyond what they thought were their physical, mental, or psychological limits for money or because they’re told to do so. It’s a selfless act for the greater good of a group. True lifeguards have to go through some pain and suffering to know in their hearts that they need the team and they have no limits to what they can do if they have to.
Come support!

Lifesaving and the Future of Drones

Drones are a hot topic right now in a lot of areas, but the international lifesaving community is becoming more and more interested in them as we look to see the newest developments. It is however hard to separate fact from fiction in a world where a YouTube video can go viral and become “fact” simply because there are so many people that see it and it takes on a sort of critical mass.

Over the past few years there have been a number of internet hoaxes related to lifesaving and drones. Usually the story is that a drone manufacturing company is testing a drone in an area working with the national lifeguard program. These drones reportedly can drop some type of floatation device, such as an inflatable ring buoy to a person in distress in the water. In the videos a person is in the process of drowning and, just as they submerge the flat falls magically within their reach. Then, even more magically, the person has the presence of mind to swim a couple of strokes and grab the buoy. Through the work I do with the International Lifesaving Federation, some of these stories come across my desk to look into. So far, when I’ve followed up with the national lifesaving groups in Brazil or Venezuela or wherever else, they’ve turned out to be clever marketing ploys with no basis. But that may change soon.

Drones are being used already in some beaches for overhead surveillance. They fly regularly at a couple of beaches in California for shark spotting. They’re used for marketing crowd shots of special events, competitions, or lifeguard training activities. But actual rescue or search and rescue activities appear to still be a little out of reach. The drones that are within the range of most lifeguard programs budgets typically have a flight time of 20-30 minutes, can’t carry much payload, and don’t operate in winds over 20 miles per hour. My guess is that when the cost goes down a bit and agencies can get their hands on drones that have an hour or more of flight time in rougher conditions this may change and they’ll be helpful when looking for missing people.

There is chatter about larger, smarter drones being developed that could use an algorithm to spot people in distress, then grab them and tow them to shore. Even that they could initiate CPR and maintain until first responders arrive. Still seems a bit like science fiction, but we’re probably not too far away from some real developments. Real enough that the International Lifesaving Federation is starting the conversation about how this type of technology could augment some of the more progressive and resource rich lifesaving services around the world. Even now, larger drones that look like mini airplanes are being used for mountain rescue and are able to drop survival packages to people. In places like Australia they are being used as a way to keep an eye on remote beach locations that lifeguards don’t regularly cover.

Night Swim 2016

Most schools are still in session for one more week, so next weekend really marks the beginning of the full summer season. And it will start with a bang, since the 30th annual American Institute of Architects Sandcastle Competition will be held Saturday. This year we expect over 60 teams to compete for the coveted “Golden Bucket Award”. If you’re like me and hate crowds, the insider tip is to go down Sunday morning early. We have security Saturday night which allows for an additional day to view these works of art.

Last week over 70 lifeguards participated in the 28th annual “Night Swim” followed by a complimentary meal at the Float. Not only is it the final physical challenge for the lifeguard candidates, but the whole staff jumps in with them. We rotate the person who designs the course so it’s different each year. This year was the brainchild of Supervisor Lauren Hollaway, and she was especially cruel.

It started at 27th with a run to 17th and back. We then grabbed fins, swam from 27th around the Pleasure Pier to 24th, jumped off the groin and swam back around the Pleasure Pier against the current. From there a run to 37th, where we got on rescue boards and paddled to 27th. And it didn’t stop there. After running the groin we jumped off the rocks again and swam without fins around the Pleasure Pier to 24th and made a final run back to 27th. The 2 miles of swimming, 3 miles of running, and 1 mile of paddling were made even tougher by 4 foot surf, strong current, and some serious competition. All of our guards meet a really high swimming fitness requirement, but we have some that are amazing athletes. Few compare to the two that dominated the race. John Obrien is a lifetime swimmer, triathlete, and Cross Fit instructor. Joe Cerdas ran track, is a great surfer, and is the undisputed champion of stand up paddle (SUP) racing in Texas- he hasn’t lost a race in 4 years. Both compete regularly in Lifeguard Sport, which includes swimming, running, rescue board racing, and surf ski (like a long ocean kayak).

The two went head to head for an hour and twenty minutes. John led most of the way with his superior swimming ability, until Joe used his intimate knowledge of currents to get close to him on the paddle. Finally, at the very end of the final swim, Joe squeaked by for his second victory in a row. I was pleased at 50 years of age to pull off a 4th place.  Everyone was a champion and finished the course, with the final finishers coming in after 2 1/2 hours of torture.

The great thing about finishing an event like this is that, once they get through it, the guards know to the core of their being that they can physically and mentally handle way more than they ever imagined.

They will need that confidence for what lays ahead.

 

Fin Cut and Night Swim

Last Tuesday evening a call came out that there was a shark bite at 42nd and sand with heavy bleeding, and unconscious person, and CPR in progress. Beach Patrol, EMS, Fire Department, and the Police Department were all dispatched to the scene.

When everyone got there they expected something pretty dramatic. The first call on the radio was the lifeguard truck, who called in that there was no CPR in progress and only minor bleeding. They added that the cut was from a fin. A surfboard fin.

It’s not abnormal for calls for service to come in as one thing and in actuality be something else. Usually the reality is much less severe than the call, but it can be the other way around. Other times our hardworking dispatchers field multiple calls about the same thing, and each has a completely different take on what they saw. First Responders all react assuming the worst case scenario but arrive ready to re-evaluate once they see with their own eyes.

In this particular case the “shark bite with CPR in progress” was a 4inch cut to the thigh of a 15 year old girl that was caused by the fin of her surfboard. We treat many surfboard fin cuts each year and rarely see a shark bite. But surfboard fin cuts can be severe. A fin that is connected to a big surfboard getting pushed around by a wave has a lot of force. It can slice to the bone easily, and at times can cut more than just fat and muscle. The good thing is its usually a fairly clean cut that can be sewn up easily. File the sharp edges of your fins down when you buy them to minimize the risk. Also, for beginners who are not yet aware of how to get away from their board when they fall, they make flexible fins that are way safer. We use them along with foam boards for our Junior Lifeguard Program.

Speaking of Junior Lifeguards we are accepting applications now. This year we have new partnerships in place in the form of “complimentary camps”. Martial Arts America, The Kitchen Chick, and Clay Cup Studios all offer camps that are compatible with the times of each age group of our Junior Guard Camp. So, for example if you have a 10 year old, they’d go to Junior Guards from 8-12 and then could go to one of the other camps in the afternoon. They’d be doing these fun, educational activities most of the day. Information on these complimentary camps is available on our website.

Next Wednesday around 5pm we’d like to invite you to 29th and Seawall for our annual “Night Swim” event. All of our lifeguard candidates will attempt their final physical challenge and will be joined by our veteran lifeguards. They’ll swim, paddle, climb, crawl, and suffer in unimaginable ways for your viewing pleasure. Come cheer us on and help us welcome our new recruits to the team!

Ready for Memorial

It’s hard to believe that we’re already to Memorial Weekend! With all the strange weather this spring it seems like summer just pounced on us.

If you’re one of the several hundred thousand we’ll see on the beach this weekend remember to be safe while you’re out having fun. Specifically, swim near a lifeguard, stay far from the rocks, don’t swim alone, obey warning signs and flags, take precautions for the heat and sun, remember alcohol and water don’t mix, watch your kids closely, and for non- swimmers and children especially- wear a lifejacket when in or around the water. Our friends at the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office are predicting some rough water and strong rip currents over the weekend so be extra careful. If you’re not sure about anything check with the lifeguard. All hands will be on deck so we’ll have really good coverage at all the parks, groins, and even on the west end including the San Luis Pass. We’re also getting some help from the Emergency Operation Center for extra patrols at the San Luis Pass and hopefully some flashing signs on the side of the highway coming on to the island. We have a new crew of lifeguards that complete their over 100 hours of training today that will be out working with the more experienced guards.

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity with the Lifeguard Academy going on, all the re-training of recurrent seasonal lifeguards, dispatch training, jet ski rescue recertification, taking care of all the last minute details on the beach, bringing water safety material to the hotels, final checks on equipment, and making sure all our personnel are good to go. We also had two major events this week.

Last Tuesday we had representatives from the Fire and Police departments, EMS, Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, and others participate in a mass casualty exercise at Stewart Beach to practice our skills, communication, and ability to work together during a crisis. We simulated a water accident with 15 victims. They were rescued, triaged, treated, searched for, and counseled. This is a great event for our lifeguard candidates to see how what they do is a small part of a whole system of emergency response. It also sharpens all of our skills right before the big weekend and summer season.

The final physical exercise was the next day where our entire staff (minus the ones that guarded and facilitated) competed in the dreaded “Night Swim”. This includes all kinds of challenges including runs, swims, rescue board paddles, calisthenics, a wall climb, knowledge checks, and ended in a long slip and slide at the finish line. Once our rookie lifeguards finish this they know they face any kind of physical challenge, which translates to a more effective lifeguard force.

Happy holidays from all of us here at the Beach Patrol and hope you and yours get a chance to take some time over the holiday to celebrate in whatever way that’s best for you.

Colombo

I’ve written before about Leroy Colombo, the most well-known lifeguard to come from our island, but someone so larger than life deserves multiple visits.

We all know that he was formerly credited in the Guinness Book of World Records with saving 907 lives, the most of any lifeguard in recorded history. Most also know that he was stricken with spinal meningitis at age 7 which left him deaf and without the use of his legs. With the help of his brothers he started swimming to rehab and eventually became a champion distance swimmer. As a champion swimmer and the first hearing impaired lifeguard he is a real testament to the human spirit’s ability to overcome adversary.

But it wasn’t until much later in life that he was considered a hero. As with almost all lifeguards it isn’t a career that leads very often to accolades. He did reportedly get a tip for saving a woman’s false teeth and for saving a poodle. And he got a couple of cans of beer once for saving a young girl from drowning. But there were hundreds saved without any type of recognition, even though he is said to have nearly drowned 16 times while making rescues.

He made his first rescue at 12, and by the time he turned 18 in 1923 he tried out for Galveston’s prestigious “Surf and Toboggan Club”. To do so he had to swim 3 hours without stopping. He officially became a Galveston lifeguard that year as well. We continue this tradition today with our “night swim”, the final physical challenge for the incoming lifeguards. All the staff joins them in completing a tough course involving lifeguard skills including swimming, rescue board paddling, running, climbing, and even some knowledge based activities, which can also be as long as 3 hours.

He followed the tradition of the Hawaiian “Waterman” (which included women) in that he lived in a way that was close to the ocean and practiced many of the disciplines related to the surf environment. In fact he was one of the first people in Galveston to practice the sport of surfing. His close childhood friend and fellow lifeguard, Ducky Prendergast, told me stories of how they used to overinflate long surf mats so they were rigid enough to surf on. We were fortunate to receive a wooden surfboard that he owned that eventually will be a focus point in a Lifeguard museum here on the island.

He exemplified the “Lifeguards for Life” motto of the United States Lifesaving Association. Even after he retired at 62 due to a heart condition, he kept swimming for the remainder of his life. That level of commitment doesn’t end just because the flesh wears out or the job is no longer an option. He’s a real role model for those who carry on with the tradition.

Hopefully those of us who share his love of the ocean and commitment to serving others through lifesaving will inspire future generations. He has certainly done this for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Swim Bonding

Ultimately, it’s all about relationships.

Wednesday evening at 5pm on the west seawall 75 lifeguards will dive into the surf and swim. They’ll make their way to the east. At some point they’ll get out and run through a series of obstacle stations. It might be a mud crawl or a rope climb. They may do calisthenics, answer questions about lifesaving, jump off rock groins, perform mock rescues, paddle rescue boards, or swim around the Pleasure Pier.

There will be a point somewhere where each rookie will doubt his/her ability to finish. There will be a point where they question their decision to join the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. They will seriously wonder if being part of the team is worth the pain. The last of the guards will trickle in at Stewart Beach up to 3 hours after starting to be welcomed by a crowd of fellow lifeguards, parents, friends, community supporters, and bystanders who get sucked into the event and follow them by car or bike to the finish line. The crowd will be truly glad that each and every one finishes. After a welcome ceremony the whole group relaxes and tells stories at a pizza party.

This grueling marathon is the final physical challenge for the Lifeguard Candidates. But it’s much more. For over 20 years this has been a way to show the candidates that they’re capable of so much more than they thought and that there’s no challenge they can’t handle. The most grueling rescue pales in comparison to this event. It’s also a way for returning guards to measure their physical condition and to compare themselves to the new group. Most importantly, it’s a way to bond.

There’s an intangible element to getting over 100 diverse, often independent personalities to work together seamlessly. The training and the protocols and the chain of command get us half way there, but each individual link having a deep understanding that he/she is part of the chain is key. No one goes beyond what they thought were their physical, mental, or psychological limits for money or because they have a boss who tells them to do something. It has to be a selfless act for the greater good of a group. Just like the military has to break cadets down and rebuild them, true lifeguards have to go through some pain and suffering to know in their hearts that they need the others and the others need them. Having all the staff go through this event has become a cornerstone of our training program and a way to build a Gestalt where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Our whole training program is designed to efficiently get all beach visitors home safely, but there’s a wonderful byproduct. Friendships forged in this type of environment have a depth and strength that lasts a lifetime. The most diverse people bond when they share pain and a common purpose.

Come cheer them on!

Ultimately, it’s all about relationships.