About 8 years back I was contacted by the City Manager of the City of South Padre. A number of their citizens were concerned because they’d had a higher than normal drownings on their beaches. He was very interested in starting up a lifeguard service for their city. Several visits later, I wrote up an analysis of their beaches with the help of some colleagues in the United States Lifesaving Association which included recommendations for starting a professional lifeguard service.
For a time I made frequent presentations to every group imaginable. There was a bit of resistance from some who said they had less liability with signs than guards. Similar to what Galveston and much of the country has gone through at one time or another. Eventually, reason (and lots of politicking) prevailed, and they formed the first ever lifeguard service for their city under their fire department. A group of guards ended up going down with me, including Sean Migues and Kara Harrison, and we ran a United States Lifesaving Association ocean lifeguard academy.
They were off to a good start, but the problem is that most of their 27 or so miles of beaches fall under the jurisdiction of Cameron County, and that includes 3 areas with huge crowds. The city beaches are mostly in front of the beach front condos without much crowd density. So on a given weekend there were a handful of people in their area, but nearby at Isla Blanca Park there were several thousand people. The city lifeguards were running to the county beaches and making rescues and dealing with all kinds of emergencies. The bar had been raised and the county eventually stepped up and started their own program, again with our help. In fact, the guy they chose to be their Chief of Lifeguards has worked for both the Galveston Beach Patrol and the SPI Beach Patrol. The county program grew rapidly and they now have something like 40 seasonal lifeguards and three permanent staff members. Drownings have decreased dramatically.
That was great, but there was still a big gap in the central Texas Coast. There has been a guard presence of sorts for years there, but they haven’t had a consistent training program and used a pool certification for their guards instead of something appropriate for the surf environment, which leaves them vulnerable to all kinds of litigation.
That all changed recently. Some scandal hit their Parks Department a few months ago and a bunch of people were fired. Several new key staff positions were recently filled including a new Park Director and Lifeguard Chief, who was hired last Thursday. The guy they hired was the number two lifeguard for the City of SPI. He plans to use the Galveston Beach Patrol as a model.
Years ago we got a lot of help from different lifeguard agencies from all over the country to set up the system we have here in Galveston. Nice to have a chance to pass the favor on!