OCEAN CITY – A near tragic incident involving people swimming in the stormy ocean early last Sunday morning had resort officials this week seeking some sort of new ordinance or restrictions on swimming at night after the sun goes down.
Around 2 a.m. last Sunday, the Ocean City Fire Department was dispatched to the beach at 37th Street for reports of swimmers in distress in the ocean. Firefighters and paramedics responded and discovered at least two swimmers in trouble in the rough seas. Two firefighter/paramedics entered the water and helped pull at least three potential victims from the water.
Two of the victims and one of the firefighter/paramedics were taken to Atlantic General Hospital where they were treated and released. More than a dozen firefighter/paramedics responded to the scene to assist with the recovery of the potential victims.
On Tuesday, the Ocean City Mayor and Council discussed the incident and questioned whether or not they should explore a city ordinance or other method to restrict swimming at night when there are no lifeguards on duty. While many people often go swimming in the ocean after the lifeguards are done for the day, or at certain times of the year when the Beach Patrol is not on duty, the elected officials were more concerned about swimmers entering the ocean late at night after dark.
Council President Joe Mitrecic broached the subject on Tuesday after hearing a first-hand account of the incident early Sunday morning.
“The people who went swimming that night endangered themselves and endangered at least two of our people, one of who had to be taken to the hospital,” he said. “The fact nobody died is a tribute to our emergency services people. Is there anything we can do in the way of a municipal infraction to help prevent this from happening again?”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained there were a couple of ways to go about it including the creation of a misdemeanor offense in which a suspect or suspects could be arrested and made to appear for trial. He also said the town could create a municipal infraction, which would not be an arrestable offense but could lead to fines of as much as $1,000. In either case, Ayres suggested the fire department, the police department and the Beach Patrol get together to come up with a recommendation for the council.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed the town should explore some sort of curfew for the beach or other means to prevent people from swimming in the ocean late at night.
“This was really late at night, in the wee hours of the morning,” she said. “It was very dreadful and could have been fatal.”
While most agreed exploring a new law or infraction was probably the right thing to do, not all were convinced the type of people who go swimming in the ocean at 2 a.m. during a tropical storm would abide by it.
“I think we’re on the right track, but I don’t know how successful it will be,” said Councilman Jay Hancock. “When you see the number of mentally challenged people that go swimming in hurricanes, or refuse to evacuate and have to be taken out by helicopter, I just don’t know if it will be adhered to.”
Fire Chief Chris Larmore agreed the time was right to explore some sort of law or penalty for swimming in the ocean late at night, given the potential for disaster.
“This is the third time this has happened in the last 10 years and the third time we came close to tragedy and close to losing personnel,” he said. “This is a very serious issue and it’s been our primary concern over the last 48 hours. We don’t want to be in a position to trade a life for a life.”
Larmore said his firefighters aren’t really trained for rescues in the ocean late at night.
“Very few firefighters get to the edge of the surf and are able or qualified to go into the ocean to save people,” he said. “This is more dangerous for us then going into a burning building.”