Posts

Teamwork

Calvin Stevens Jr., a new parking attendant, rode his Segue up on the seawall. As he went through his normal routine of helping people park, answering questions about the island, and serving generally as a tourist ambassador he noticed something out of the ordinary. Looking down at the 53rd street groin, he noticed a young man inside the no-swimming area.

Calvin is new to the job but he’s no stranger to Galveston or the beach. His Father, Calvin Stevens Sr. has worked with me in the Park Board system since the late 80’s. He works as a supervisor in the Coastal Zone Management Department. He is very conscientious and serious about his work. Apparently this rubbed off on his son as well.

Calvin Stevens Jr. impressed me at a recent training we put together for “De-escalation and Self Defense Techniques”. I helped the world renowned Grand Master Ishmael Robles teach this course and noticed that Calvin was really focused and serious while still enjoying himself.

As Calvin saw the young man in the no swimming area he waved and yelled telling him not to go any deeper because it was dangerous and pointed at the signs the guy had walked around. The guy heard him but turned around and waded out into the water anyway. Calvin quickly called his Supervisor and told him to call Beach Patrol on the radio. As soon as the guy started walking deeper than his waist he dropped into the hole by the groin and was quickly carried out by the rip current. He struggled briefly then submerged.

Our rescue truck was only 4 blocks away and pulled up within seconds. They saw the guy collapsed on the shoreline. He had drifted out and around the groin and back to shore. He was laying there having trouble breathing and vomiting repeatedly. Our crew stabilized him and got him quickly into an ambulance. He survived and was released from the hospital the next morning.

Calvin has no responsibility to watch the water. He’s definitely busy enough dealing with the hundreds of tourists he comes in contact with each day. But he paid attention when we mentioned the issues with rip currents we have along the seawall. And he was alert and conscientious enough to notice the problem and do something about it.

One thing we’ve been trying to focus on in the Park Board is cross training and increasing communication between departments with the goal of creating a broader network of support for tourists and locals alike. Beach Patrol now teaches all parking attendants, park staff and others first aid and CPR. Along with that we cover topics like how to spot people in trouble and what to do. This de-escalation/self defense course was a trial that we want to repeat with the park staff. And now we are scheduling park staff to join for the rip current presentation of our upcoming Wave Watchers community program.

With people like Calvin Stevens this type of teamwork is a natural fit.  What a great person to represent Galveston!

Spring break Sand

If you’ve braved the seawall during Spring Break you’ve seen the beach getting bigger and bigger. It seems like every time I drive by they’ve made real progress. What a great deal for Galveston!

There will be a re-adjustment period as the sand settles into a natural state. The grain size of sand determines its slope. Beaches with big grains have a pretty severe inclination and those with smaller grains drop off more gradually. So those beaches you go to on the upper east coast or most places out west that have a big shore break (large waves breaking very close to the beach) would have big, chunky grains of sand. We have a fairly small grain size so it’s understandable that someone 20 yards from shore could be in waist deep water. This will also affect what occurs a short time after the new sand is placed. As the grains form a sort of lattice the beach goes from fairly level to having more of a slope. Most of the sand will still be there but the shoreline will appear to move closer to the seawall, then stabilize.

This new sand affects surfing slightly and has a fairly significant, though temporary, impact on water safety. Most of this is due to it essentially making the groins shorter.

Surfers will generally have to move out past the groin, meaning they no longer have the protection of the rocks and aren’t able to use the rip currents as sort of “free ride” to the outside break. Also the groins create really nice sand bars near the end for surfing. There will be a new sand bar forming farther out, but it will take awhile until the sand readjusts. This means mushy waves for awhile.

For the guards the shorter groins means that the lateral current, which runs parallel to the shoreline, won’t have as much to block it. It will run faster without as many obstructions. This means that people will drift to the rocks faster and more consistently. The rip currents are also stronger near the shore which will affect smaller people swimming closer to shore, like children.

Our guards will have to be even more pro-active than usual. They’ll have to keep people farther from the groins and the rips that occur near them. They’ll have to move faster when they get out of their towers to match the speed of people drifting. And they’ll have to watch for the effects of a steeper drop off, which includes deeper water closer to shore and a higher chance of rip currents in areas away from the groins.

You can keep yourself and others safe by staying extra far from the rocks and maintaining that distance. Stay closer to shore than normal and check with the lifeguard when you go to the beach to see if there are specific hazards in that area.

It won’t take long for the sand to shift into its natural state, but it’s always a good idea to swim near a lifeguard.

Hypothermia Story: Part 2

In last week’s column I talked about a young girl who suffered the effects of hypothermia as a result of swimming in the cold beach water. While most of us know the basics of what hypothermia is there is specific information that could be helpful, especially when swimming during the colder months.

The Mayo Clinic describes Hypothermia as “a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature”. This “dangerously low” body temperature starts at 95 degrees and is more severe the lower it gets.

Your system doesn’t work well when the body is at lowered temperatures. If untreated, hypothermia can lead to heart and respiratory system failure. Eventually it can cause death. Sounds scary right? Does this mean that every time your kid starts to shiver he/she is going to have serious problems? Of course not. This may be just an early warning sign for mild hypothermia. Read on..

The first thing your body does when its temperature drops is to shiver. What it’s trying to do is generate heat by causing movement. When swimming, this is the sign that it’s time to warm up. It may be a matter of just sitting in the sand for awhile then jumping back in the water on a warm day. Or when conditions are more serious this is the signal that you need to get out of the water and warm up, now!

Hypothermia is divided into three categories- mild, moderate, and severe.

The symptoms for mild hypothermia include shivering, hunger, nausea, fast breathing, difficulty speaking, slight confusion, lack of coordination, fatigue, and increased heart rate. As your temperature continues to drop and moderate to severe hypothermia kick in. Shivering eventually stops and you’ll start to show clumsiness, slurred speech, confusion (even to the point of trying to remove warm clothing) and eventually loss of consciousness, weak pulse, and slow, shallow breathing. Babies may have bright red, cold skin, low energy and a weak cry.

Warming a person with a more advanced case of hypothermia can be tricky, since you don’t want the cold blood in the extremities to rush to the center of the body. In these cases you want to call 911 for professional help and to move the person as gently as possible in doors. Remove wet clothing and cover them in lots of blankets. Then wait for help to arrive.

Differentiating between mild and more severe cases can at times be difficult so, as always, when in doubt call 911. But for those cases that we all experience where we’re just shivering a little and our body temperature is near normal warm sun and maybe a hot chocolate is just the thing. Then get back out there and keep having fun!

The good news is that the water has risen almost 15 degrees and is now getting in the zone of comfortable swimming. Just remember that even in warm water swimming for long periods of time can still drop your body temperature.

Hypothermia Story

Many of you probably remember the story from a couple of weeks ago about the little girl who suffered mild hypothermia after swimming in the beach water on a day when the water was 58 degrees over Spring Break. I was fortunate to have a long conversation the other day with her mother and found out there was much more to the story than we originally thought.

The details will be of interest to all parents who take their children swimming in the cooler months. From what I gather the mother and father of the little girl didn’t do anything different than any reasonable and careful parent would do- and they still had a pretty close call.

The family stayed at a hotel on the seawall. The dad took their 12 year old girl across the street to the beach. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but sounds like there may have been another kid or kids involved. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day and they set up on the beach while the girl went swimming. She was in the water for about half an hour and then came out chilled. She’s a thin and very athletic girl without a lot of body mass. Dad brought her back to the hotel and the kids were playing in the heated pool and then went to the hot tub to re-warm since the girl was still cold.

The parents became concerned when the girl couldn’t warm back up. Her hands stayed white and she was blue around the mouth. At one point the girl lost vision. Rescuers were called and stayed with her until she warmed back up and was feeling back to normal.

Upon hearing the mom’s account directly I was struck by how this story had an almost serious outcome even though the parents did nothing irresponsible. It’s rare that we have a sunny day in the 70’s while the water is so cold. Normally people that swim in cold water warm back up easily. The combination of the girl’s body composition and water temperature were no doubt contributing factors. My guess is that she was having so much fun and the air temperature was so warm that she didn’t pay attention to warning signs as they developed. It’s also probably rare that she swims in water that cold, so neither she nor her parents realized her limits. People vary greatly in how resistant to hypothermia they are. There are many contributing factors so the same person swimming in the same temperature on two different days may react differently.

The problem and danger here is that the way you treat mild hypothermia versus more severe cases varies considerably. Normal things we all do to warm back up when we experience normal mild hypothermia can actually be dangerous for more severe cases.

Fortunately, this case ended up fine and was merely a learning experience and a chance to warn other parents how to avoid a similar incident. Stay tuned for a follow up with more specific information…

Spring Break Update

Spring Break has been interesting this year. So far we’ve had quite a few people down on the island but the weather has alternately been very near perfect or awful. But every time the sun comes out the beaches suddenly fill up so there definitely are people here on the island.

Last weekend the water was in the high 50’s which kept lots of potential swimmers on the beach laying in the sun or making sand castles. But, contrary to predictions, the weather was beautiful with sunny days in the 70’s. Definitely Spring Break weather! We had very few incidents despite the crowd. Since that time, the water has warmed up quite a bit. We did beach water swims both Sunday and Tuesday morning and the water went from 58 to 64 in just 3 days.

Looking back over the last few months we’ve gotten quite a lot accomplished due to the hard work of our full time employees. Supervisor/Officer Kris Pompa singlehandedly has given water safety talks to over 9,200 kids in the area. Supervisor Mary Stewart made 18 recruiting trips to high schools, colleges, and community events. Supervisor/Officer Josh Hale has done a number of enhancements on our website including putting a recruiting video on the home page and a water safety information video under the “Beach Safety” tab. Supervisor/Officer Joe Cerdas has repaired all of our rescue boards and led the charge in refurbishing our lifeguard towers. And our newest full time employee, Supervisor Lauren Holloway, is nearing completion on the first phase of our virtual lifeguard museum project for the website.

We’ve also got some exciting enhancements on the beach for this season. Last year in the Fall we placed rip current warning signs and doggie bags at the base of every place you can access the sand along the seawall. The Park Board Tourism and Development Department designed accompanying signs that we’ve placed right beneath the rip current signs. These signs are attractive, bilingual signs that inform the public about the most important rules. There are icons to let you know to keep pets on a leash and to clean up after them, to not use glass containers or drink alcohol, and that prohibit camping and open fires. This is a game changer in letting the public know what the expectations are. Most people want to do the right thing and will comply if they understand what’s expected. Additionally, when we don’t let the public know the rules it’s awfully hard to enforce them.

Starting Memorial Weekend we will be patrolling the west end every day of the week instead of just weekends. We’ll also continue the special weekend San Luis Pass Detail that keeps people out of those dangerous waters and gets them home safely.

Finally, we will be starting a new program where at 10am on the Saturday of each holiday weekend we will give free public beach safety seminars at strategic locations along the beach front. More to come on that…

Warming Up

Finally! Spring feels like it’s just around the corner. After the long, long winter there’s finally that feeling in the air. The cold is still there but doesn’t seem to penetrate all the way to your bones and even if it’s cold in the morning you’re able to get by with a thin layer or just a t-shirt by the afternoon.

The water, however, doesn’t seem to know that it’s time for winter to relinquish its grasp. On Tuesday, we did a beach workout and were still wearing full suits and hoods, although boots and gloves weren’t necessary. The water temp was 58. Warmer air temperature means that people on stand up paddleboards have been surfing with either just a wetsuit top or even “bare backing” it while people surfing prone are still in full winter gear.

The spring breakers were undaunted by the cold water though. Each time the sun popped out or the wind died they suddenly appeared all over the beach. The first volleyball tournament of the season went off well at Stewart Beach. The lifeguards, shivering in their towers, had to move a number of them away from the rip currents near the jetties. There were, however, some days where it was just too cold to put the guards in the towers in the mornings. Fortunately we kept a number of them on standby knowing that the afternoon would warm up and as soon as the sun popped out and hundreds would suddenly show up. It seems like there were lots of people here on the island hanging out in restaurants, hotel rooms, The Strand, or one of our many tourist attractions waiting for that ray of sunshine so they could hit the beach.

This weekend is the last of Spring Break. It will be safe to drive down the seawall for a short time until summer is really upon us. No one will meander across the lanes in front of you with speeds varying between 5mph and 45. No one will pull a U-turn, almost hit you, and then post up by a potential parking space, unashamedly blocking traffic, while 5 people take 20 minutes to load two chairs and a cooler into the back of their vehicle. But enjoy it while it lasts, because soon it will be time to retreat to the “secret” way you have to move around the interior of the island!

This weekend the Houston schools and a handful of colleges are at the end of their Spring Break and the weather forecast looks pretty good, so we may see those big crowds we’ve been expecting. As it stands this far, the Beach Patrol has only made one rescue. It was a good one though. We, with the help of our police, fire, and EMS partners, saved a father and daughter from drifting off shore on a really cold north wind day. They likely wouldn’t have survived if someone hadn’t had the good sense to call 911.

And so it begins….