OC Foreign Workers Hear Safety Messages

OCEAN CITY — At roughly the mid-summer point, foreign students working in the resort this week got a multi-pronged safety message from various departments with presentations on the Boardwalk on Wednesday evening

The event was attended by Deputy Secretary of State Robin Lerner, who oversees the country’s J-1 student worker visa program. Lerner was in Ocean City through mid-week as part of her tour of areas around the country with a high concentration of foreign students in the country on J-1 visas. Each year, roughly 80,000 international students travel to the U.S. during their breaks from school through the J-1, or Summer Work-Travel Program, and Ocean City is a popular destination for the students because of an abundance of summer jobs and its close proximity to major metropolitan areas.
Lerner is spending the summer on the road, meeting international exchange students and taking part in their cultural and work experiences to gain a better understanding of some of the challenges they face. This week, Lerner’s tour included a stop in Ocean City. On Tuesday, she met with Mayor Rick Meehan, got a tour of City Hall and attended a City Council meeting.

On Wednesday evening, she attended “J-1 Safety Night on the Beach,” which included demonstrations from the Ocean City Beach Patrol, the Ocean City Police Department, the Ocean City Fire Department and Emergency Services. The intent was to educate the foreign student-workers on the public safety resources available to them and to instruct them on how to enjoy a safe summer while working in the resort.

OCBP Lieutenant Ward Kovacs led off the series of presentations with strong messages about ocean safety, rip currents, the importance of heeding the instructions of lifeguards and even the importance of sun screen.

“Hopefully, you go home as safely as you got here,” he said. “We want you here and we need you here, and we just want you to be safe.”

With two drownings of young people earlier this summer attributed in part to rip currents, Kovacs stressed the importance of ocean safety with the foreign students.

“People get pulled out and they panic as they try to swim against the current,” he said. “It’s like trying to go down an up escalator. Eventually, the machine wins.”

Kovacs hammered home the rip current message and used an analogy of the letters in the word “rip” to illustrate the point.

Ocean City Beach Patrol Lt. Ward Kovacs lets two foreign student workers try sitting on one of the patrol’s waverunners.

Ocean City Beach Patrol Lt. Ward Kovacs lets two foreign student workers try sitting on one of the patrol’s waverunners.

“We want you to be safe in the water,” he said. “The lifeguards will often know you’re in trouble even before you do. When you look at the word ‘rip’, we don’t want that to become rest in peace. The ‘R’ stands for relax and the ‘I’ stands for ‘I’m in trouble.’ Don’t wait to ask for help. Finally, the ‘P’ stands for parallel, because that’s how we want you to swim to get out of a rip current.”

Kovacs also stressed the importance of not diving into shallow water and related a story from several years ago when three young people suffered severe injuries just minutes after arriving in Ocean City.

“Three young people drove across that bridge, parked on this very street, ran across the beach and dove headfirst into shallow water,” he said. “One suffered a neck injury, one severely hurt his back and another smashed his face. It might have been the shortest vacation ever in Ocean City.”

Next, Ocean City Fire Department Deputy Chief J.D. Lawson made a presentation to the foreign students assembled against the backdrop of one of the departments larger fire engines. Lawson explained how the fire department trains extensively and is ready to meet their needs should an emergency arise.

“We’re constantly training for any situation that can arise,” he said. “We don’t train until we get it right, we train so we never get it wrong.”

Ocean City Firefighter/Paramedic Hugh Hommel explained to the foreign students how the paramedics and emergency services are prepared to handle any and all medical emergencies. Hommel’s primary message to the student-workers was how best to access those emergency services when they’re needed the most. He explained a simple 911 call from any telephone, even if it’s a foreign cell phone, will get the emergency medical services injured or ill students need quickly.

“If you’re sick or injured, pick up a phone and dial 911 and we’ll come,” he said. “Don’t worry about what insurance you have or what your travel arrangements allow, call 911 and we’ll come. We’ll take care of you first and we can worry about that other stuff later.”

For its part, the Ocean City Police Department’s presentation focused largely on the do’s and don’ts for foreign students to avoid running afoul of the law and enjoying a safe summer. OCPD Sgt. Mark Paddack explained there are three main ways foreign students spending a summer in the resort can land in trouble. One being noise violations. Paddack advised the foreign workers, many who share accommodations with several others and often party after working one, two or even three jobs, often find themselves on the wrong end of a noise citation.

“We have tens of thousands of visitors on vacation so there is going to be some noise,” he said. “The local residents understand this and can tolerate some noise, but loud parties and loud stereos are going to end up with noise violations.”

Paddack said another common way foreign student workers and even American students get into trouble in Ocean City in the summer is disorderly conduct.

“Looking at this crowd, it looks like most of you are over 21 or near 21,” he said. “Just try and act like human beings and enjoy your stay.”

Paddack said yet another common infraction for summer workers in the resort is public consumption of alcohol and drinking under the age of 21. He said the laws might be different in the students’ native countries, but advised the OCPD has littler tolerance for violations here.

The rest of Paddack’s message largely focused on public safety issues. He said he could not emphasize enough the importance of obeying traffic laws and following pedestrian rules.

“If you drive while you’re here, and most of you probably won’t, you have to obey the rules of the road,” he said. “Those same rules apply to bicycles and scooters. As far as pedestrian safety goes, be aware of where and when you can cross the roadways and always use the crosswalks. The town and the state have spent a lot of money on those pedestrian safety initiatives and they work, but you just have to follow the rules.”

Lerner asked Paddack about the requirements for wearing safety helmets while bike riding. Paddack explained those over the age of 16 are not required by law to wear a helmet, although the department strongly suggests it. Of course, Paddock was wearing his safety helmet during the presentation. Lerner strongly urged the students to wear a helmet while riding a bike and following the OCPD’s advise.

“I oversee the J-1 program all over the country and every year we see at least one fatality that could have been prevented if the

An Ocean City police K-9 officer speaks to the foreign student workers gathered on the beach on Wednesday night. Photos by Shawn Soper

An Ocean City police K-9 officer speaks to the foreign student workers gathered on the beach on Wednesday night. Photos by Shawn Soper

bike rider was wearing a helmet,” she said. “Invest the $20 and get a helmet. It could save your life, and look how cool it looks.”

Finally, the OCPD presented a demonstration by K-9 “Juno” and his handler on the beach. The presentation included a demonstration of the dog’s abilities to sniff out drugs, track suspects and recover evidence. After all of the presentations, the foreign students gathered were treated to free pizza and more casual conversation with the presenters.