Ocean Injuries Stretch Resort Emergency Responders Thin

OCEAN CITY — In the wake of one of the busiest days of the summer for beach- and surf-related injuries, Ocean City’s first responders found themselves stretched to the limit on Tuesday, forcing them to reach out to their emergency services partners for potential assistance.

On Tuesday, the Ocean City Beach Patrol and the city’s team of firefighter/paramedics were extremely busy with an exceptionally dangerous shore break and associated rip currents causing multiple neck and back injuries including a handful of victims that had to be taken to area hospitals via helicopter. While the weather was clear and warm and the ocean inviting for the thousands of visitors that crammed into the resort for one of the busiest weeks of the summer, the remnants of Tropical Storm Bertha, which was passing offshore, caused major shore break and rip currents.

The heavy wave action on the beach caused huge pools of water behind the crest of the beach at the water’s edge. In many places along the beach, the conditions created a knee-deep or shallower wading pool of sorts for beachgoers to enjoy. In several places, however, the trapped water broke through the crest of the beach and created a river of water rushing back toward the ocean, creating dangerous rip currents.

At one point on Tuesday, Ocean City’s emergency services were taxed to the point they were forced to reach out to neighboring areas for help, according to Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters.

“We did at one point have to call for assistances from Berlin and Sussex County,” she said. “It is not common for us to ask for assistance from our allied agencies for EMS services, but we do have to rely on them on occasion. Yesterday [Tuesday] was a true example of the importance of mutual aid agreements and how critical it is to work closely with our partners in other areas, as well as our private sector partners.”

Ocean City and its neighbors in Worcester County and Lower Delaware share mutual aid agreements during which the emergency services departments are on standby or provide assistance at times of need. Most often, mutual aid providers back-fill into fire stations when the first responders are engaged in a major emergency. For example, when there were two major residential fires going on simultaneously earlier this summer in northern Worcester County, fire departments from all over the region assisted.

On Tuesday, with several surf-related neck and back injuries requiring multiple ambulance runs and a handful of fly-outs by Maryland State Police helicopter, Ocean City called on its neighbors.

“With a large number of beach-related injury calls, yesterday [Tuesday] was a true demonstration of teamwork by both Town of Ocean City public safety personnel and our partners in neighboring districts,” said Waters. “It is so reassuring to have the ability to rely on our partners, and at the same time, have them rely on us if needed.”

Waters said the city had all hands on deck on Tuesday during the rash of beach-related injuries and had ramped up its resources heading into Wednesday if the conditions had not improved.

“According to Chief [Chuck] Barton, we had every vehicle on the road and fully staffed,” she said. “We are in the busiest time of the year and the department staffs sufficiently, using calls for service from previous years to measure the needs without overstaffing crews. Also, we do have a system in place to call people if needed, which is what we did yesterday [Tuesday]. For today’s [Wednesday’s] purposes, we upstaffed with the expectation that it may be as busy (or busier) than we were yesterday [Tuesday].”

Late Tuesday and into Wednesday morning, the beach patrol and the town issued warnings through its various mediums to beachgoers alerting them of the potentially dangerous conditions. The “keep your toes in the sand until the guards are in the stand” message was a common reminder.

On Wednesday morning, while conditions were not as severe as Tuesday, the beach patrol conducted extra seminars for beachgoers and issued warnings about the continued shore break and associated rip currents. On its Facebook page on Wednesday morning, the beach patrol issued the following warning.

“The lifeguards were very busy yesterday. We encourage you to ask them any questions you may have. They are there for your safety. Yesterday, we had a few areas on the beach where water was rushing out. Please do not play in the area of water where it’s rushing out and looks like a slide into the ocean or a big rip current in the sand. This is not normal and can be very unsafe,” the message read.

A similar message was released by the beach patrol later in the day.

“The ocean looks clean and beautiful and very inviting today,” the statement reads. “However, the four- to five-foot waves are crashing directly on shore. This is what a shore break is. This causes impact injuries when your body gets slammed on the hard, wet sand. If you must go in the ocean today, check with the lifeguard about riding the waves and boogie board use. Don’t play in the impact zone of the waves.”