(Editor’s Note: The following is a series on the men and women who have spent their summers protecting all those who came to Ocean City for fun and safe vacation.)
OCEAN CITY — Dave Fleming grew up in the northeast section of Baltimore City where as he put it, “not many kids from my neighborhood were thinking about living at the beach for the summer.”
But his older brothers and cousins had discovered the ocean as well as earning summer jobs guarding the beaches of Assateague and Ocean City. Dave followed in their footsteps and, after serving on the Assateague Beach Patrol for three summers, joined the OCBP in 1979. By the summer of 1981, he was a crew chief on 56th Street.
Most visitors to Ocean City are well aware of the presence of the beach patrol during the summer. They see the guards making rescues and watching over everyone both in the water and on the sand. But what many are unaware of is the second season for the OCBP: fall. The summer crowds may have gone, but the dangers of a still warm ocean still require guarding. One of Dave’s stories comes from that time as the summer of ’81 turned into fall.
We had fewer guards in the fall and I could barely see the nearest guard to me, sitting five blocks to the south. A riptide had opened a block from my stand when I saw a young boy (about 15 years old) run straight into the ocean (and the rip) without breaking stride. He didn’t listen to my whistle and immediately found himself in trouble and yelling for help. I sprinted down the beach to start the rescue, as five beach patrons start running into the water in hopes of saving this kid.
I blew my whistle and signaled them to get back. Surrealistically they all stopped and looked at me and then continued going into the water. One of them, an older gentleman, never made it close to the original boy in trouble. I grabbed him on my way out and put him onto a sandbar and told him to stand there until I came back. I continued to the boy who had now been joined by four new victims. I pulled all five in and went back in for the older gentleman still standing on the sandbar.
I put him on the buoy and tried swimming out of the rip. Perhaps the current was changing or the rip was getting worse because we were not going anywhere. It was like being in a whirlpool. Much to my surprise, Sean Gibson, the guard from five streets away, had come running up the beach to assist. Even with this extra horsepower, we were still barely getting anywhere.
Rather than waiting, the five guys I rescued earlier, along with a few other people, came out and made a human chain. As we got out of the water, I wanted to tell them that they had made a bad situation worse by not listening to me. Instead, I said, “thank you” and let them be the heroes of the day. I imagine to this very day, some of these guys still tell the story of how they rescued the lifeguard … leaving out the part how the lifeguard saved them first.
Dave credits the OCBP for shaping him into the person he is today, teaching him much about human nature and helping others. The lessons served him well as he is now a mental health therapist.
Dave currently lives in Fallston and reports that one of his three children took the OCBP test and passed.