Letter to the Editor of the Alameda Sun: Beach safety focus
I am an Alameda resident, father of three children, and a Alameda firefighter.
I feel that it is my responsibility to respond to the article, "Be Safe in Water," printed in the Alameda Sun by the Fire Department administration, July 16. The message regarding "Beach Safety Tips" in reference to "lifeguards" can be confusing, and somewhat misleading, so I feel it incumbent on me to clarify certain facts regarding water rescue and safety.
The article advises the reader to "swim near a lifeguard" and to "ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering unfamiliar water." The public needs to be aware that there are no lifeguards on duty anywhere on Crown Beach's 2.5 mile stretch or elsewhere along the surrounding natural water areas of Alameda.
In 1999, the City Council approved the implementation of a Surface Water Rescue Swimmer program to provide Alameda firefighters with the necessary skills and resources to provide water rescue response to all waterfront areas of Alameda's jurisdiction.
This program was instituted due to the absence of lifeguards, the significant delays of water rescue response from the Coast Guard and Sheriff's Dive Teams, and the lack of certified water rescue training for Alameda firefighters.
After the death of two adolescents below the Bay Farm Island Bridge a few years earlier, the Fire Department urged the City to support a safer, more efficient water rescue response capability, which the Fire Department has since offered, until now.
Last year, the City Council approved a budget presented by former City Manager Debra Kurita and current Fire Chief Dave Kapler that has dismantled the Fire Department Surface Water Rescue capability.
Due to the budget reductions, the necessary recertification of our water rescue swimmers for OSHA compliance was not funded.
As of March 16, 2009, the Fire Department administration issued an operational status change, placing the surface water rescue swimmer program on hold. According to the status change, "all previously qualified Rescue Swimmers shall not enter the water for an active incident until further notice."
What does all of this mean to a swimmer in distress? It means that firefighters may not swim to or use the rescue boat and rescue boards to approach a distressed swimmer in the water.
Firefighters are permitted to toss a 75-foot water rescue rope to the victim, provided the victim is within 75 feet of the shore, to effect a rescue. The Fire Department Incident Commander will request that the County Dispatcher contact Coast Guard for assistance.
So, in the absence of lifeguards, what do I recommend for a "safe and smart" time at the beach?
Don't enter the water with more than one non-proficient swimmer at a time. Having three children of my own, it's very easy to lose track of one while supervising the others. Keep your eyes on and stay close to the non-proficient swimmer at all times. Even in shallow water, maintain a 1:1 ratio. The waves, swells and tides can be challenging for young ones and it only takes a split-second for tragedy to occur.
The person in question that drowned on Memorial day was obviously disturbed and not a swimmer in distress.