OCEAN CITY — With the arrival of Memorial Day weekend, Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) Captain Melbourne “Butch” Arbin III begins his 50th year with an organization he has helped transform.
The OCBP was officially formed in 1930 with a small crew watching the water in the downtown area in the nascent days of the resort. In 1935, the famed Robert Craig took the reins as captain of the OCBP and served for 52 years before retiring in 1987. OCBP Captain George Schoepf, who had served as assistant captain to Craig for over 30 years, took control in 1987 and remained in place until 1997 when he died after a courageous battle with cancer.
Arbin started his career as an Ocean City Beach Patrol Surf Rescue Technician (SRT) in 1973. He passed the test on July 16, 1973 and was on a stand the next day. He was appointed as acting captain of the OCBP in 1996 and was officially appointed captain by the Mayor and Council in 1997.
Arbin has served on the OCBP now for 50 years after graduating from Parkville High School. He moved through the ranks and served as a lieutenant before becoming captain in 1997. Arbin graduated from the University of Maryland, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education with an emphasis on sports medicine. He was a member of the track and field team at Maryland and also served on the campus police department all four years he attended the university.
For the last 45 years, Arbin has worked as an educator with the Charles County Public Schools system. Before taking on additional responsibilities with the OCBP, Arbin taught graduate courses at the University of Maryland. When he is not working one of his two jobs, Arbin is involved in his church and enjoys being a member of the work and witness program, which travels to underprivileged countries to build churches and medical facilities. He has been married to his wife Penny for over 40 years and both of their children, Katie and Michael, live and work in Ocean City.
As he prepares to start of his 50th season with the OCBP, Arbin was interviewed this week about some of the accomplishments and some of the challenges during his time at the helm of the department. The following are some of the questions and answers from the interview:
Q: If memory serves me correctly, there have been three long-time captains in the history of the Ocean City Beach Patrol. The OCBP was created in 1930 and Captain Robert Craig took command in 1935 and served as captain until 1987. Captain George Schoepf became captain in 1987 and served until 1997 when you were appointed to become the new captain. Those are some awfully big shoes to fill and you’ve done it admirably. What’s it like to live up to the expectations of those greats?
A: There were others called captain, but only served a few years prior to Captain Craig. I am thankful that I worked for both Captain Craig and Captain Schoepf, so I was able to learn from both. They were very different in their approach to the position and leadership in general. My desire is to take the positive lessons from the past and apply them as we move forward and to make changes in the areas that we need to improve.
Q: How has the beach patrol changed over the years since you took the reins? I know there have been some technological improvements, but it seems like it still boils down to watching the water and communicating with your fellow officers?
A: Yes, SRTs must be able to pass the run and swim part of the testing, but the most important skill of an SRT is the “scan.” If you can’t spot trouble and know when you need to intervene, then the fastest runner or swimmer isn’t any good for this job.
Having our ATVs out and radios has made responding to more serious incidents more efficient. When I started, there were phones for each crew and if you were a sergeant in the south area, from the Inlet to 27th Street, you walked, and in an emergency, ran to the site. I once ran two miles and then had to do CPR.
The other huge item is the training. When I started, it was test today and on a stand tomorrow. Also, the equipment we provide. There was no rain gear and no sun protection. Now, they get lots of high quality gear.
Q: You’ve been an educator for over 40 years, right? It’s well known many of your returning officers, year after year are teachers, professors and administrators. Is that the perfect labor pool from which to fill out your ranks?
A: I am just completing my 45th year. We have a very large number of people who have been with the patrol for over 10 years, 28 I think, with half of those over 20 years. Most are educators, but an issue becomes availability, both early before schools get out, and they leave in August to return to teaching. Most will make the weekend trips to work to help us out.
Q: What are some of the challenges in recruiting? I know the job is physically and mentally demanding.
A: About 85% of our people relocate to work for us each season, so locating affordable housing is a major issue. We have a very high return rate. This year, 87% wanted to return in some capacity, many switching to part-time due to other responsibilities. Getting our newest rookies is the big challenge. The fitness level of our youth has declined in the last 20-plus years. This makes it more difficult to find those who can perform the physical aspects of the job.
Q: Will you have a full complement of SRTs out on the beach this summer? What are some of the challenges with staffing and ensuring the beach is covered?
A: We should start the season with the typical number of stands on the beach. However, as we approach the prime time, we will need to hire and train additional SRTs, or we will have less stands available, which causes us to spread out the staff we have available. We have a test scheduled for June 4 and a second training academy that starts on June 19.
Q: How long do you see yourself doing this job? Is there an end goal in the plans?
A: I just completed my 45th year with Charles County Public Schools, and I am starting my 50th season with the beach patrol. I am still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. Actually, I do not have a plan to retire or leave either career. The day I wake up and no longer want to go to work will be the day I decide. I must continue to do a self-assessment and determine if I still have the passion, energy and excitement for either job. So far, I am as motivated today as I was when I started either career.