OCEAN CITY — Five years ago yesterday, a Baltimore woman was severely injured when she was impaled by a flying beach umbrella on the beach in Ocean City, providing the backdrop of a reminder about the importance of properly installing the shade providers.
On June 30, 2010, Lynn Stevens was enjoying a windy but hot summer day on the beach with her family in the area of the Gateway Grand when a beach umbrella in her vicinity was lifted high in the area by a gust of wind and came plummeting back to the ground at a high rate of speed. The spiked end of the umbrella pole impaled Stevens’ thigh and nearly severed a major artery.
“It was a very windy day and the umbrella was lifted straight up in the air,” said Stevens this week as she recounted the incident five years ago. “It came straight back down and went through my thigh. The pole went into my leg about four inches and it just missed my femoral artery. It didn’t tumble like you see them do so often. Instead, it went straight up and came straight down.”
The Ocean City Beach Patrol and Ocean City EMTs responded quickly and began a rather unusual treatment of Stevens.
“It took four men to hold the umbrella steady in the wind to prevent it from doing more damage,” she said. “They literally sawed off the pole right there on the beach and left about a 12-inch length of the pole sticking out of my leg. They took me to PRMC and the rest of it was taken out in the operating room. It was a little unnerving because the nurses and doctors looked a little astonished to see the umbrella pole sticking out of my leg because I figured they had probably seen everything.”
Stevens said she spent three days in the hospital recovering from the injury. She later attempted to locate the EMTs that cared for her initially on the beach in order to thank them. While the severity of her beach umbrella injury five years ago this week was somewhat unusual, it certainly isn’t unusual for beachgoers to be struck and injured by flying umbrellas. Because of the ever-changing and often windy conditions on the beach and improperly installed beach umbrellas, there are dozens of cases nearly every day. Some are worse than others, but nearly all of them are preventable.
The Ocean City Beach Patrol responds to medical emergencies caused by flying beach umbrellas almost every day throughout the summer and some, including Stevens’ case, are serious enough to require an emergency services response. According to the OCBP, it is almost never the person who owns the umbrella that gets hit, but rather an unsuspecting person nearby. The accidents can often be prevented and are essentially caused by an umbrella that was not properly set in the sand to begin with.
While there are obvious public safety issues with improperly set beach umbrellas, there are often legal ramifications, according to the beach patrol. The owner of a flying umbrella can be held responsible for any injury caused to another person. For that reason, the beach patrol will offer advice for properly setting an umbrella, but will not install an umbrella for beachgoers. Similarly, beach stand operators know how to set an umbrella properly and adjust them to the prevailing conditions, but if a renter moves the umbrella on their own, they can be held legally responsible for any damages they cause.
With all that said, there are some common sense beach umbrella installation techniques that will make a day at the beach safer for everybody. When setting the umbrella, simply jabbing it into the sand is not enough. Instead, jab to sharpened end of the pole into the sand and rock the entire umbrella back and forth until 18 to 24 inches of the pole are firmly into the beach. Another flawed technique is attempting to screw the umbrella pole into the sand.
Another tip is to make sure the umbrella is tilted into the wind. That will prevent a gust from getting under the umbrella and lifting it suddenly, as was the case with Stevens’ incident. Again, common sense should prevail in most cases. If it is an unusually windy day, take the umbrella down and don’t leave it unattended. If one goes in for lunch, or into the ocean for a swim or down the beach for a walk, take the umbrella down and put it back up upon returning.
The beach patrol will often warn beachgoers of high wind conditions, just as they issue warning about rip currents or other potential hazards. It is also important to remember to set umbrellas behind the lifeguard stands. Umbrellas set east of the imaginary line between lifeguard stands can impede the sight lines for the beach patrol and its ability to survey the water. If setting an umbrella before the lifeguards come on duty, always remember to set them a few yards behind the high tide line.