OCEAN CITY — While the annual education drain is already affecting the Ocean City Beach Patrol, the resort’s 10 miles of sandy beaches will remain covered through the final stretch of the season albeit with thinner ranks and creative scheduling.
While Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) officials last week announced many of the ocean swimming beaches in the state parks will be left unguarded on weekdays for the final stretch of the summer season, the Ocean City Beach Patrol is also dealing with the annual employment exodus caused by so many staffers involved in education whether it be as students, teachers or administrators.
If ever the message “keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguards are in the stand,” needed reinforcing, the final few weeks of summer heading into Labor Day will be a time to closely monitor the beach patrol’s coverage areas.
OCBP Captain Butch Arbin said this week the Beach Patrol already dropped 10 stands last week and dropped 20 more this week. Arbin said the coverage areas are always adjusted on the Monday of a new week late in the season so weekly renters are aware of any changes.
“We schedule Monday to Sunday and try not to remove stands on a daily basis so people know what is going on,” he said.
Arbin said more stands will be dropped next week and then again following Labor Day, based on the availability of staff. It’s not a unique situation and occurs every year at this time because of the drain on available staff for education reasons. For example, Arbin himself is a long-time employee with the Charles County Public Schools system and is back there this week at the James E. Richmond Science Center running an aerospace camp for the last week of summer vacation in southern Maryland.
Two OCBP lieutenants are educators and of the 12 sergeants on staff, eight are educators and two are college professors. There are 18 crew chiefs, of which eight are educators and two are college professors and of the 17 assistant crew chiefs, 10 are students. Many of the other rank-and-file lifeguards are also college or high school students and some have left early for fall sports practices.
Arbin said this week despite the drain on staffing, the OCBP continues to guard the entire 10-mile stretch of beach in Ocean City as usual from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day, although it takes some creativity to ensure the entire beachfront is being carefully monitored.
For example, with 30 stands dropped already, Arbin and his staff alter the distance between the remaining stands to maximize coverage. On a typical summer day at the height of the season, the Beach Patrol’s fullest deployment is typically 92 stands, although this year the agency only peaked out at 89 stands for a variety of reasons. When the beach patrol starts dropping stands late in the season, the distance between remaining stands is obviously extended.
“At our fullest deployment in the summer, the stands average 190 yards apart,” he said. “If we drop to 60 stands, we average 290 yards apart. Last fall, we were about a half a mile apart.”
In addition, the OCBP has already cancelled all half days. Typically, the guards work five-and-a-half days and the half-day is utilized to cover lunch breaks for other lifeguards on the stands. By eliminating the half-day schedule, the OCBP is able to keep more stands open during the week. Of course, many of the lifeguards who have already left for school during the week return on weekends, which helps ease the schedules for the full-timers.
“By cancelling the half days, we can spread lunches out later in the day and use less lunch rovers and keep more stands up,” he said. “We use our returning weekend guards to give days off so our people who are available during the week will work all weekdays.”
While the beach patrol has struggled somewhat this summer with employment issues, like many other municipal departments, there is reason for optimism. While there is still a decent chunk of summer remaining, the beach patrol has already been testing potential candidates for next season and is currently way ahead of where they were at this point last year.
“We have had very successful recruiting and testing in August,” said Arbin. “Last year, we had hired eight rookies in our August testing and this year we have hired 31 and still have another test on Saturday, Sept. 3.”
Arbin said there are many reasons for the late season employment drain, not the least of which is available employee housing.
“Housing is always an issue since many leases end mid-September and we guard the beach until Sunfest Sunday,” he said.