PENINSULA - Beach patrols were again conducted this summer by members of the South Pacific County Technical Rescue Team, continuing a tradition of safety which began over five years ago.
The patrols, funded in part by the city of Long Beach as well as by Pacific County Fire District No. 1, resulted in a total of 564 contacts with swimmers this summer alone. This number is up from 440 in the summer of 2001.
The beach patrols were not conducted every weekend, but were concentrated to take place during the busiest summer weekends, due to the increased number of people on the beaches.
"We had a real good summer," said technical rescue team member Doug Knutzen. "We patrolled a total of 15 days starting with the Perch Derby. The patrols were conducted by five ground crew members as well as seven rescue swimmers."
According to Knutzen, there were a total of 20 days which beach patrols were originally scheduled for this summer, but due to weather conditions on certain weekends, the beach patrols were not conducted.
"It was pretty foggy and the wind kind of picked up during Kite Festival so we didn't have to do anything for about three days," said Knutzen. "I think the total we dropped was five days where the weather just didn't warrant us being out there."
Knutzen said that the beach patrols resulted in a total of 706 contacts this year, including 564 swimmer contacts, which involved educating people in the water about surf safety. Beach patrols also resulted in contact with over 70 people driving in the closed area of the beach.
"Our beach patrol is more about overall beach safety and not just swimmer safety," said Knutzen. "So, we've started a pretty good education program that has really started to work for everybody."
Beach patrols also resulted in contact with 13 people spinning "donuts" in closed areas of the beach. But Knutzen stressed that members of the technical rescue team who conduct the beach patrols do not get involved with law enforcement, they just advise people that it's not the proper thing to do, for safety reasons, and that there are rather substantial fines for such activity.
"We did have a total of eight actual rescues where we actually went out in the water and bring people back in, before it got to such a point where we had to call out the whole team," said Knutzen. "We're pretty proud of that too. Every rescue was a child under 15 and we scored lots of points with parents."
At a Sept. 16 Long Beach City Council meeting, Knutzen told the council that the city's funding for the beach patrols was well-spent and that members of the technical rescue team appreciate the city's support year after year.
"The money is well worth it," said councilor Ralph Moore.
According to Long Beach City Administrator Nabiel Shawa, the city had budgeted $5,000 to go toward the beach patrols in 2002, of which only $3,750 was spent, due 15 days of patrolling instead of 20.
Moore suggested giving the technical rescue team the entire $5,000 and then "banking" the rest of the five days for next year, but Shawa had an ever better idea.
"We could do this, but I hope the council realizes that they were out there for 15 days at $250 a day and beyond that there is a lot of training time and the equipment upkeep for all the specialized equipment they have." said Shawa.
According to Shawa, when the city tried to run a beach patrol program on its own, the cost went well over $5,000 each summer and some years it ran up to $8,000 $10,000, and as high as $12,000 and over when the city had to buy its own equipment and try to maintain it.
"I think it is well-worth the extra $1,750 dollars to go towards their equipment and training," said Shawa.
The council unanimously approved the entire $5,000 to go toward the beach patrols conducted this summer, which Knutzen said would be put to good use. He said this is particularly good timing for the funding, since the technical rescue team is trying to build up some additional funds to replace one of its four personal water crafts.
In addition, Knutzen said this winter he will be trying to put together a beach safety brochure to explain the many hazards on the beach.
"We want to put the beach safety brochures everywhere," said Knutzen. "We would also like to work on getting some standardized signing on the beach from Seaview to Ocean Park, so that when everybody sees a sign they are all going to look the same."
Knutzen said the technical rescue team is also trying to get submersible radios so its members can better communicate.