OCEAN CITY — On the penultimate day before the lifeguard stands were put away for the season, the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) had one of its busiest days of the year with around 100 rescues recorded by the skeleton crew.
With a big crowd on hand for Sunfest weekend, clear skies, warm air and ocean temperatures still inviting for swimmers, there was no shortage of action on the beach for the OCBP on Saturday, which was the first day of autumn.
On Saturday, the OCBP had 32 lifeguard stands manned by Surf Rescue Technicians (SRTs) across Ocean City’s roughly 10 miles of beaches, compared to the normal complement of around 92 during the peak season. However, with just about one third of stands on the beach manned, the OCBP had one of its busiest days of the summer.
“We had close to 100 rescues on Saturday,” said long-time OCBP Captain Butch Arbin this week. “What made it even more difficult was the distance between stands compared to the regular season — 92 stands compared to 32 on Saturday. The back-up must come from a mobile patrol unit rather than the neighboring SRT. Also, with such a great distance, we are not able to do as much education and prevention as we do during the season.”
While the 100 rescues on Saturday weren’t the most in a single day for the OCBP this summer, it was certainly near the top, according to Arbin.
“It wasn’t our busiest day of the summer, we had a few days with more rescues, but we also had at least 85 to 92 stands on the beach and the average distance between SRTs was under 200 yards,” he said. “Saturday was the busiest day since July 26 when we had 206 rescues and 91 stands on the beach.”
By Sunday, the weather took a turn for the worse and most of the weekend visitors in town for Sunfest weekend began to trickle away, as evidenced by the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 50 heading west. By then, the beach patrol had begun the tedious task of removing lifeguard stands from the beach. While Sunfest weekend is the symbolic end to the season, that doesn’t mean the end for the beach patrol’s work.
“After Sunfest weekend, the lifeguard stands were quickly removed from the beach and we no longer position SRTs along Ocean City’s beaches until May 2019,” said Arbin. “However, you may still notice beach patrol personnel around town and on the beach as we maintain a minimum presence for a few weeks through Columbus Day Monday performing close-down tasks for the winter.”
While the remaining patrol crews will largely be doing maintenance and other administrative tasks through the offseason, including an aggressive recruitment program for next season, they will still officially be on duty on the event of emergency on the beach or in the ocean.
“These maintenance crews will also be comprised of mobile rescue units for emergency response if we receive a 911 call,” he said. “The OCPB will be in response mode like the paramedics or police with a small number of mobile rescue units deployed on the beach on the weekend.”
Arbin explained each mobile unit will patrol around two to three miles of ocean. Typically, the nearest mobile rescue unit will respond to the “swimmer in trouble” call, forwarded by a 911 dispatcher.
“Having mobile units out on the beach makes the OCBP one step closer if someone needs assistance,” he said. “These mobile units are First Aid and AED-equipped and consist of one SRT as a rider acting as the primary rescue swimmer while the other SRT, or driver, maintains radio communication and back-up during an emergency.”
All in all, Arbin said the 2018 summer season was a productive one for the OCBP with plenty of positive outcomes on rescues and other medical emergencies, lost kids and countless other tasks the agency performs on the front lines for Ocean City. There were few major incidents, save for a dramatic rescue of a woman impaled in the chest by a flying umbrella in late July, and no drownings reported for the first time in recent memory.
“We had a great season with a great staff,” he said. “We had very few incidents compared to other seasons. We had no drownings and we also had two successful CPR resuscitations for people who collapsed on the beach. We also had a record number of participants in Junior Beach Patrol.”