OCEAN CITY — When Ocean
City Beach Patrol Captain Melbourne “Butch” Arbin leads his new recruits and
returning lifeguards in the annual moment of prayer on Saturday near Somerset Street
on the Boardwalk, it will mark the beginning of his 38th summer in
Tomorrow marks the first
day that the Ocean City Beach Patrol will get back on their wooden perches
overlooking the cool waters of the Atlantic, and Arbin says they are not only
well prepared but also extremely excited for another summer of saving lives and
being ambassadors of sorts for Ocean City.
Arbin talked The
Dispatch through the ins and outs of staffing, daily strategies, how
some lifeguards are literally doctors, and he even commented on a very
well-known (but technically) non-member of the Beach Patrol: Rodney the
Q: After 38 years, what
keeps you coming back to Ocean City every summer, since it’s a well-known fact
that you are an educator off the island in the off-season, with such passion
A: Well, this job never
gets old and there is always new things happening here, whether it’s the new
young men and women we hire or the millions of people that we interact with
each season. But, the most important thing I work hard to do is to continue to
find ways to do what we do better than we’ve ever done them before.
Q: How so?
A: For instance, we are
working alongside the National Weather Service to enact a rip current
calculator that they will use worldwide, so we will be feeding them with data
almost everyday. In addition, we are also working with physicians to develop
new on site treatments for head, neck and back injuries.
Two summers ago, a man
broke his neck in three places and because of the tactics our lifeguards used
and handled his injuries on the beach, he is now walking. He came back to the
beach last summer and took the guards who helped him out to dinner. So, we
aren’t just lifeguarding, we are trying to work on the science side of things
Q: You manage a huge
operation comprised of both young rookie guards to seasoned veterans on the
beach patrol. How difficult is it to keep millions of sunbathers and swimmers
under watch by a staff of just a few hundred?
A: After this many
years, I’m not really needed to go jumping into the water for a save; I’ve got
200-plus people that are willing and able to do that. My job is more like a
conductor in an orchestra. I make sure that everyone is playing their part at
the right time, even down to the littlest phrasing of our parts, and making
sure we are all working together towards the same goals.
This is the first year
that we met our recruitment and retention goals so that means that we basically
had our crew staffed for this season at the end of last season. And in a tight
budget year, us not having to travel to various schools in the winter-time for
recruitment saved us some money. We will be holding some tests in mid-June and
hiring people for the end of the season when lifeguards start headed back to
Q: As the resort ramps
up to full capacity, how difficult is it to make sure that you are staffed
A: We have to hit the bulls-eye every year for how many people we hire to make
sure we are covered for the busy parts of the year, but also for the end of
August when the college kids start going back to school. This weekend, we will
have more guards up on the stands than we ever have before, which is about 87
stands. In comparison, in the middle of the summer, the most we ever have up is
Q: What are some new
concerns that you have briefed your crew on for this upcoming season?
A: Well, the water is
pretty warm already, almost 60 degrees, which we usually don’t get that until
we are well into June. That means that there are going to be more folks in the
water right away, which is a good thing for the town, but we have to make sure
our new people are on top of their games from the get go.
Another thing we’ve
really been stressing this year is integrity. We want to instill in our
lifeguards that the tourists are always watching them when they are on the
stand, so they need to make sure they are doing what’s right even no one is
watching. For instance, this generation of kids is addicted to text messaging,
and we want to make sure that our guards aren’t sitting on their stands and
Q: Many people believe
that the beach patrol is made up of just young college kids, but there are
teachers and 20-year veterans as well. How diverse is the group?
A: It is true that a lot
of our guards are anywhere from 18-22 but we also have three people on the
patrol that have doctorate degrees. The level of expertise that we have here is
tremendous, and the city isn’t paying us based on our qualifications in the
professional world, they are merely paying us to be lifeguards. We take what we
do very seriously, and the 4,000 rescues we made last year appreciate us for
that. One of the biggest things our young guards tell me is that they are so
surprised with how much respect they get in the community just because they are
wearing the uniform.
Q: We’d be remiss if we
didn’t ask about the town’s mascot Rodney the Lifeguard and what the general
feeling towards the character the members of the Beach Patrol have?
A: I always know when
the commercials start running because people ask me what street Rodney is going
to be on this summer, and that means that the commercials work and it gets
people talking about Ocean City. But, I think everyone knows that Rodney is
just a playful take on what we do as lifeguards, although I don’t think anyone
on the Beach Patrol thinks the campaign is making fun of us.
MGH Advertising and the
town came to me when they created the character and I gave my blessing, and
whenever Rodney goes out and does a television or onsite promotion, we send a
real member of the Beach Patrol. But for us, Rodney is a benign character.
Oddly enough though, they told me when they brought me into the first meeting
that they wanted to name him Butch at first. Thankfully, they went with Rodney,
because I couldn’t begin to imagine how many times I’d be approached on the
street if he were called Butch.