Steady Shore Break Keeps OC Beach Patrol On Edge

OCEAN CITY – While the number of saves along the resort beaches are back in line after a seven-day stretch of 1,500 saves earlier this month, the Ocean City Beach Patrol remains on their toes, experiencing everything from heart attacks to near-death experiences on the resort’s 10-mile stretch of beach. 

Hurricane Bertha broke records when it became the first hurricane to form so far east in the Atlantic Ocean before Aug. 1 and again when it was noted as one of the longest-lived named storms in July and the second longest-lived hurricane ever. Locally, the storm had major affects as well, sending big waves to the resort beaches and prompting 1,500 saves in seven-days, nearly 2,000 in two weeks.

“We probably made 2,000 rescues over a two week period. Now most of those people would not have died, but we’re not going to wait until people are panicked to make a save,” said Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin this week.

With Bertha’s long-lasting affects finally over, Tropical Storm Cristobal soon followed, but will most likely have little effect on beach activity. Cristobal was eventually upgraded to a category two hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into southeast Texas.

Although daily saves are back to normal, the beach patrol remains hard at work, facing a variety of recent impact injuries.

“When you get big waves and rip currents, it also creates shore break and people body boarding, body surfing or just playing in it get hit and thrown in the sand,” explained Arbin.

As a result, it is not unlikely for lifeguards to see impact injuries such as head, neck and back injuries, broken bones and dislocated shoulders.

Such was the case this past weekend when a swimmer came alarmingly close to losing his life in the shore break.

“A man hit his neck on the bottom so hard that it stopped his heart,” said Arbin of the incident.

Lifeguards arrived quickly to the scene, finding an unresponsive body in the shore break. After hooking the victim to the automated external defibrillator (AED), it became clear that there was no heartbeat.

“We knew that he didn’t have an effective pulse,” said Arbin.

Fortunately, lifeguards on the scene were able to successfully use the AED and perform CPR. By the time the victim was loaded into the ambulance, he was alert and talking, said Arbin, adding that the victim was later flown to shock trauma where he is reportedly on his way to a successful recovery.

“Having somebody who was basically killed on impact, with his heart stopping, be alive and may be well is amazing,” said Arbin.

Just two days before that another man faced life-threatening injuries after being thrown into the shore break. Arbin reported that a man who was body surfing close to shore fractured two cervical vertebrae after being thrown by a wave into the shore break. While he will undergo surgery for his injuries, he was lucky to suffer no paralysis from the incident, said Arbin.

Later that day, a father suffered a heart attack on the beach, but was also quickly attended to and steered clear of danger. Arbin explained the dangers of over-exerting oneself on the beach. Playing in the sand and surf can weigh on a body that isn’t used to so much activity, causing a heart attack or numerous other medical conditions.

While the rip currents are also dangerous factors at the beach, lifeguards typically spot swimmers on the verge of getting in trouble, flagging or pulling them to safety well before swimmers panic. Impact injuries can be more difficult however; as people typically think they are safer closer to shore. Many people are unaware of how easily and how forcefully a wave can knock them into the sand.

Although all appears clear today, the beach patrol remains alert for storm activity, constantly monitoring tropical events, particularly with storms like Bertha, which brought waves that are unusual for July.

“We’ve never had this kind of tropical event this early in the season,” said Arbin. “It just kept pushing water in and pushing water in. The type of surf we saw, we see in August. In this case, we had it in July.”

Unusually large waves and strong rip currents came as a shock to some vacationers, said Arbin. Vacationers typically return to the beach during the same time frame each year, and, as a result, mid-July vacationers typically don’t see the big waves that August or September visitors often encounter. This year’s batch of mid-July vacationers saw a different scene in the water however, with big waves and strong rip currents plentiful.

Educating beachgoers remains a top priority in any condition, said Arbin, particularly on days where lifeguards are constantly pulling swimmers out of the water.

‘The guards are basically coming out and going right back, making all these rescues,” Arbin said of busy days.

As a result, lifeguards are encouraged to take control of the beach and the situation by calling everyone out of the water and educating them with an impromptu gathering.

“We pull them together, we talk to them, and it gives us a chance to break the momentum,” explained Arbin.