By Richard Mundy
For Hometown News
If a lifeguard is wearing a red and yellow outfit, you can count on him to save your life.
It he or she is wearing blue and white, they may be able to help you, but they can also take you to jail.
The different colors for uniforms was one of many details Mark Swanson, the new Director of Beach Services for Volusia County, shared in a public citizens meeting at The Casements on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
Mr. Swanson is in his first year as beach services director, having started Jan. 1. He has 35 years experience as a clinical services manager, an EMT/paramedic and a Daytona Beach Shores police officer. Overseeing 40 miles of beach is a challenge, but one thing that helps, he said. "I love Volusia County."
In existence since 1988 when the entire coast was put under county control, Beach Services provides a safe, clean, friendly experience, offering a variety of fun recreational opportunities and quality amenities while conserving coastal natural resources.
Beach personnel, adhering to that mission, while attending to both their general duties as well as their hidden ones, require significant skills and training. The beach, Mr. Swanson explained, is manned by three sets of individuals, "Lifeguards, emergency medical technicians and law enforcement officers." Their training is rigorous with hours in the classroom and on the beach, and also includes frequent testing and re-certification, as often as every two years.
The training even extends to "turtle wash-back," Mr. Swanson said.
The incoming tide washes seaweed onto the beach in which small turtles are trapped. Beach personnel free them each morning as part of their duties.
"All of the EMTs and lifeguards on the beach are American Heart Association CPR trained," he said.
All of the rescues are a team effort. It is the duty of the tower lifeguard to watch for swimmers in trouble and race from the tower to the swimmer. Other members of the beach team immediately follow and assist with the rescue.
The main danger on Volusia beaches is caused by topography -- the flat, smooth gradual ramp into the water. That makes the water subject to rip currents, which are the cause of 81 percent of swimmer problems and rescues. There are about 2,500 to 3,500 rescues annually.
The beach personnel are constantly being shifted to the areas where they are most needed, whether it be for traffic control, tower observation or patrolling.
Regarding the budget for beach management, George Recktenwald, county director of public protection, said, "The budget for beach safety and ocean rescue is $7.27 million with nearly all of it in operating expenses. The Coastal Division, which maintains the beach, all the beach-front parks and walkovers has an operating budget of $4.4 million with an additional $5.8 million in reserves and capital improvements."
Mr. Recktenwald noted improvements had been made in maintaining appropriate traffic flow and safety. Constant monitoring of motorists, whether speeding or driving in non-authorized areas are all part of a day's work. Jump-starting cars with dead batteries, getting motorists out of soft sand, and reuniting lost children with worried parents are part of the hidden duties the beach personnel accomplish every day.
Mr. Recktenwald also noted overall traffic on the beach was slightly lower than last year, quite possibly due to the economic recovery with visitors once again going to the amusement parks instead of the free beach.
Special events occur on the beach, for which a permit is required if it involves more than 50 people. Weddings, anniversaries, volleyball tournaments, baptisms, reunions and other events must be monitored both for permits if needed and as a potential for a problem.
Maintenance of signs, lifeguard towers and vehicles are also under the purview of beach personnel. Recruitment is an ongoing issue, with programs such as the junior lifeguard program helping some.