OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Beach Patrol wasted no time getting its feet wet last weekend after a variety of factors conspired to force a near-record number of rescues on the first few days on the stands.
With a tremendous crowd in the resort for the Memorial Day weekend, coupled with picture-perfect weather and unseasonably warm water temperatures, the atmosphere on the beach was more reminiscent of a mid-July weekend then a late May weekend. As a result, the OCBP, which officially started occupying fixed stands last Friday, had a harrowing, but successful start to the summer season.
“We were very, very busy,” said Lieutenant Ward Kovacs. “We had the remnants of the tropical storm churning up the surf a little, we had unusually warm water temperatures because the ocean never got too cold this year because of the mild winter, and, of course, we had the huge crowds for the three-day weekend. All of that added up to a busy three days for us.”
The numbers appear to bear that out. Kovacs said the Beach Patrol made 144 official rescues in three days, which is not unusual in July or August, but certainly high on the last weekend in May. Typically, the Beach Patrol makes two or three rescues a day over the Memorial Day weekend because the water temperatures prohibit swimming for most. Kovacs said last Friday, the first official day the Beach Patrol was manning the stands, was especially busy.
“The very first day, we had 78 stands manned and we made 73 rescues,” he said. “That’s almost one rescue for every stand.”
While the Beach Patrol had many veteran SRTs manning the beach and many more returning seasonal guards, there were more than a few new lifeguards seeing their first action last weekend.
“At our briefing on Tuesday, we asked for a show of hands from those who had made their first rescues over the weekend and more than half raised their hands,” said Kovacs. “Typically, the new guys wouldn’t make their first rescue until mid-July.”
Kovacs said the rescues ran the gamut from the serious to the routine.
“There were nine calls for paramedics over the weekend ranging from serious neck and back injuries to less severe injuries,” he said. “We did have some pretty heavy surf over the weekend.”
In one of the more serious cases, a 60-year-old man was pulled from the surf unconscious in the area of 98th Street. The victim had suffered neck and back injuries in the heavy surf and later regained consciousness before being flown to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.
In a knucklehead example of what the Beach Patrol was dealing with last weekend, a group of young people challenged one of their friends to attempt to swim out to the number-two buoy near the Inlet, which is about a half mile offshore. “Once they couldn’t see him anymore, they decided it was time to call 911,” said Kovacs. “We responded, but the Coast Guard had to come out to get him before we got to him.”
Kovacs said with Memorial Day leading into June and with all that entails, the Beach Patrol is trying to reinforce its tried and true message.
“It’s really pretty simple,” he said. “Keep your toes in the sand until the guards are in the stand. We can’t emphasize enough how important that is.”
As for last weekend’s trial by fire for many newcomers on the Beach Patrol, Kovacs said the crews met the challenges and will be better prepared for what lies ahead because of it.
“That’s why we recruit the best and train so extensively,” he said. “They were prepared and we had a successful weekend. They got a good taste of what the summer will bring and they passed.”