OCEAN CITY – The City Council unanimously approved the purchase of new safety equipment for the fire department water rescue team, stemming from the heroic late September rescue of three intoxicated swimmers in dreadful conditions.
OC Fire Department Chief Chris Larmore came before the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday asking for a number of improvements to the equipment used by the surf rescue team including night-vision goggles, high-visibility wetsuits and strobe buoys.
After Del Baker and Derrick Simpson of the rescue team heroically pulled three swimmers from Canada who had been swept out to see in the early morning hours of Sept. 29, Larmore felt that improvements to the equipment used was warranted to prevent the fear that rushed through officers on the beach after Baker and Simpson faded into the darkness during the rescue attempt from happening again.
“It is not unusual for us to have to perform a rescue in the worst of conditions, but this was a very close call, and we felt very uncomfortable with what could have happened. We are overwhelmingly unanimous in our suggestion for these changes,” said Larmore.
The reflective orange wetsuits that will now be worn by water rescue teams cost about $200 each, according to Larmore, and a “two-in two-out” policy will be instilled, keeping at least two officers on the beach while two go in for the rescue.
In addition, the council approved several beach improvements including land-line reel ins that will be attached to the shift supervisor vehicles as well as deploying one of the new fire trucks recently purchased by the department at the top of the street with lighting to illuminate the rescue area.
Officers will also use high-rise buildings when available as a “lookout” to increase visibility on the scene itself.
“We lost a Pennsylvania firefighter in the surf six years ago and I was on that call,” said Larmore. “When we went to the funeral in Pennsylvania, his father told me to make sure we keep this from happening again.”
The immediate impact on the public after these heroic rescues could come in the form of an ordinance that would ban “night-swimming” in the ocean.
Currently, chapter 106 of the Ocean City Code prohibits sleeping on the beach from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. and also prohibits in section 111 that it is “prohibited for any persons other than police or maintenance personnel to be on the beaches of Ocean City between the hours of 12 midnight on one day and 5 a.m. the following.”
Councilman Doug Cymek called for a message to be sent to the public by way of an amended ordinance.
“We need to put the bite back in the ordinance. Those people put Del Baker and Derrick Simpson at great risk, and we need to put the word out that we won’t be tolerating it anymore,” Cymek said.
Larmore as well as many members of the council agreed that any change to Chapter 106 of the City Code to prohibit night-swimming wouldn’t be the sole solution to fixing the problem.
“We certainly don’t think it will stop everyone from entering the surf, but we hope that it will raise awareness so maybe 50-percent fewer will go in, and that’s 50-percent less a chance to have to go in and save them. We ask you to consider that,” he said.
Councilman Lloyd Martin said it needs to be defined what people consider nighttime, citing fishermen come into his convenience store at 4 a.m. before casting their lines in the ocean.
“We need to be careful what we are saying here and how we are doing this, so we don’t effect how people use the beach,” Martin said. “What do you consider nighttime and what do you consider daytime?”
In the end, Chapter 106 of the city code may be changed to prohibit night-swimming, but either way, Larmore’s rescue team will be better equipped when they do have to go in after somebody.
“We aren’t trying to keep people off the beaches,” said Larmore, we just want to keep them out of the surf at night.”