The early part of 2019 started out a bit light for lifeguard crews manning the beaches in South Baldwin County.
“This beach season had a slow start for spring break, small crowds and cold water,” Orange Beach Safety Director Brett Lesinger said. “We have seen huge crowds roll onto the beach for special occasions like Memorial Day weekend, Mullet Toss, local concerts and holidays, but not consistent crowds throughout the year though.”
If the busy Memorial Day weekend is any indicator, those same crews are looking at a long, hot busy summer.
“This weekend alone we estimated about 160,000 on the beaches of Gulf Shores,” Battalion Chief of the Beach Division Melvin Shepard told the City Council May 28. “They conducted 4,000 personal contacts and over 2,000 lectures where they spoke to families about the danger of rip currents and surf conditions.”
There was one tragedy on Memorial Day, as 21-year-old Edwin Perez, a Honduran working as a painter in Baldwin County, drowned. Family members say he was trying to help his cousin who was struggling in the water. The cousin survived.
“With the 32 rescues this weekend, so far this season we’ve had 72 rescues,” Shepard said. “A rescue is defined as someone who should have drowned or would have drowned if a lifeguard was not there to remove them from the water. That’s not somebody that’s out on a float in the water and we just assist them back to the beach.”
Shepard praised his staff and said drownings are traumatic on the crews as well.
“These young men and women can start working at the age of 17 and when we do have events like yesterday where you do lose a life on the beach, it’s very traumatic for them,” Shepard said.
Other stats from the weekend for Gulf Shores include 35 major medical calls on the beach, 31 missing children and five missing adults. Of the 32 rescues, 20 of those took place at the main beach at Gulf Place. The city has 10 lifeguard towers from the Gulf State Park Pavilion to Little Lagoon Pass and four roving guards on ATVs.
In Orange Beach, 15 rescues occurred there all because of rip currents, Lesinger said. Other stats include eight water assists, 11 medical aids, 325 preventative actions, four lost persons, two transported to the hospital and a total of 996 public contacts. Since January the crews in Orange Beach have had 31 rescues and 46 water assists.
Shepard said Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are only two of only four services on the Gulf Coast with Advanced Agency Certification from the U.S. Lifeguard Association. The others are in Destin and Pensacola. Of the 154 agencies in the country, Shepard said, only 54 are advanced certified.
“It’s 48 hours of additional medical training in lieu of CPR and first aid,” Shepard said. “Those are required.”
His agency has five licensed paramedics, three advanced EMTs, two basic EMTs and two more signed up to take basic EMT courses. Gulf Shores also keeps two trucks on the beach with advanced life-support equipment including cardiac drugs, Shepard said.
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