OC Beach Patrol Overcomes Recruitment Challenges

OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) had a full complement of lifeguards in the stands over the holiday weekend, despite continued challenges in recruiting.

During a budget work session in April, long-time OCBP Captain Butch Arbin presented his department’s fiscal year 2020 spending plan and perhaps the biggest takeaway from the presentation were concerns with recruitment challenges and the possibility of starting the season on Memorial Day weekend with last surf rescue technicians, or SRTs, in the stands as last year. However, Memorial Day weekend came and went with the full complement of SRTs in the stands for the entire length of the resort and the pattern is expected to continue heading into June.

“Recruiting still remains a challenge,” said Arbin this week. “However, with a high number of returning staff and many of our educators working weekends until they are finished with school, we had more stands on the beach than last year.”

Many of the beach patrol’s senior staff and even rank-and-file officers are teachers, college professors, school administrators and students. For example, Arbin is a 40-year career and technology resource teacher with the Charles County Public School system. A study conducted last year revealed 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. The OCBP’s reliance on teachers and administrators works in large part because of the seasonal nature of Ocean City. It also provides a well-educated and dedicated work force that returns year after year and works on weekends during the shoulder weeks.

However, the OCBP still needs to recruit a certain number of rank-and-file SRTs each summer, a process that has become increasingly difficult for a variety of reasons. When Arbin made his presentation to the Mayor and Council in April, he cited increased competition with neighboring resorts in terms of starting wages along with the increased cost of seasonal housing in Ocean City. He also said it had become difficult to get potential candidates out to the various testing sessions even after they had pre-registered, a phenomenon that still exists as the OCBP continues to fill out its ranks.

“Recruiting refers to new employees,” he said. “Our biggest issue is that although we are successfully getting people to register for testing, over half are not showing up. Of the 177 who pre-registered for tests that we have completed, 90 did not show up. We have a test on Saturday and 44 have pre-registered.”

Despite the challenges, Arbin said this week he had no concerns with deployments and covering the entire 10-mile stretch of beachfront in Ocean City going forward.

“The bottom line for this season is that we will have all 10 miles of beach guarded from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Memorial Day Saturday to Sunfest Sunday,” he said. “We will have the same number of stands deployed during our peak season as we did last year. The additional staff that we get are used to fill in as our veteran SRTs are used for special programs and assignments such as Junior Beach Patrol, camps, water rescue patrols and additional ATVs. Our No. 1 priority continues to be stands on the beach.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.