Bonfire, junior lifeguard program in works

What once was designed as a fundraising event for the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol is now to become a community celebration, with the 2005 edition of the town’s annual bonfire.
Members of the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol Committee met Saturday, March 12, to discuss plans for the July 2 bonfire event and other items related to the patrol.

The consensus on the pre-Fourth of July event was decidedly in favor of doing more than simply starting a bonfire. In fact, feedback thus far had indicated a desire to involve the town’s children, committee Chairman and Town Council Member Theo Brans said. That meant some retooling of the event, moving its planned hours from the late evening to an earlier start at 7 p.m. so younger children could attend.

Beach Patrol Captain Tim Ferry suggested beach patrol members could start games for children around 7:30 p.m. and run them for approximately one hour.

Committee members will return at their next meeting with more detailed ideas on games to include, while Ferry said he could adapt some games played by junior beach patrol members, allowing the event to act as a teaser for the inaugural program in Fenwick Island this summer. The possibility of a tug-of-war was also discussed.

Under the tentative plan, the bonfire would be lit around 8 or 8:30, and entertainment more targeted at adults would run until 11 p.m. That could include live music or other entertainment.

There will be no alcohol allowed at the event, per the town code, but those attending will no longer need to obtain tickets. Food will primarily be on a “bring your own” basis, with the possibility of allowing a hotdog and snowcone concession also discussed. Plans for the event will be firmed up in the coming months.

Ferry also discussed his plans for the town’s first junior lifeguard program, to begin this summer, likely in early July. He said the program had proven incredibly popular during the time he ran it in Bethany Beach, even drawing many children from Fenwick Island.

Typically, Ferry said, the program was offered to those 9 or older in a series of three-day sessions, each running approximately three hours in the afternoons. The sessions, offered weekly and limited to 10 children, each included a public education segment (such as information on rip currents), physical training elements and lifeguarding elements, he said.

While the lifeguards involved in running the program typically do check the participants’ swimming ability, the program is not intended as a swimming class and does require a minimum level of proficiency, Ferry noted.

Parents are not required to observe the sessions, but many routinely have, Ferry said. He noted that the benefits are there for both parents and children, providing training and activity for the children while giving parents the opportunity to have a structured, supervised activity for their children on those three days.

Registration fees are targeted at covering the cost for elements involved in the program, including a bag, T-shirt, hat and the services of Ferry and the two lifeguards who have already volunteered to staff the program.

He said typically the cost was about $50 per child, allowing the patrol to collect a $25 profit toward their needs; but committee members expressed a desire not to aim for any profit during the program’s first year in Fenwick Island. The fee is yet to be determined, based on Ferry’s research into current costs.

Ferry said he hoped the program might become a “feeder system” for the patrol in future years, but that even with an advanced session offered later in the summer, typically children lost interest in it around age 12 or 14. He said the program was always beneficial from an educational standpoint, but had also brought a handful of guards into the patrol over the years.

Committee and Town Council Member Chris Clark asked whether there was some way to encourage the junior lifeguards to continue with the program and become regular lifeguards as they reached the minimum age of 16.

Since many of those ages 14 to 16 often spend their summers working, Clark suggested the program at some point might add a segment that would allow those teenagers to be paid for continuing as an assistant lifeguard. Ferry said private Middlesex Beach currently had such a program in place and he would investigate the idea.

Ferry noted that the lifeguards who have volunteered to assist with the junior lifeguard program would be serving within their usual work hours for the most part, but it would not substantially affect the coverage on the beach. One lifeguard is a lieutenant, he said, and not assigned to a lifeguard stand; the other would be relieved by coverage from a stand that is normally worked by two guards.

The issue of restricting the program to those from Fenwick Island was raised, but Ferry said he would prefer to leave the registration open, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Committee members agreed advertisement about the program should remain low-key in its first year, to ensure demand didn’t overwhelm them. (Ferry noted parents called in March of the second year of the Bethany program, to ensure their children had a spot.)

Brans said he would prefer the program start small but do a good job in its first year, then be allowed to grow naturally.

Discussing the town’s planned lifeguard coverage for the summer, Ferry noted that most of the previous year’s lifeguards had indicated they planned to return in 2005. Only four spots remained to be filled, he said. The town is also awaiting final confirmation from the state about whether the Fenwick Island patrol will also be covering the state park’s beach.

Currently, the patrol will plan to have 12 stands, running from Fenwick Avenue to Lewes Street — the same coverage as in 2004.

Those guards may be even better trained, since the patrol is seeking national certification from the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA). That requires increased standards for first aid and CPR training, but also offers the town some benefits from an insurance standpoint, as well as the pride of being only one of a handful of patrols in the area to obtain the certification.

Equipment needed to help the guards obtain the certification was purchased in 2004, Ferry said, also commenting on the patrol’s solid performance in lifeguard competitions last year. He further said the USLA certification also opens the patrol to the possibility of taking the Open Water Cross-training Program, certifying them to assist with deep-water rescue.

The rescue program involves numerous state and local safety and law enforcement agencies, including the National Guard, and could call on the patrol to assist with offshore rescues and work with rescue helicopters.

Lifeguard coverage on the beach in 2005 is set to begin Memorial Day weekend, running that Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with coverage also being provided on June 4 and 5. Full-time coverage will start June 11, continuing daily until the Monday of Labor Day. Late-season coverage will be on the two weekends following that holiday, this year including the state beach coverage and not just inside the town.

Lifeguard training is tentatively set to take place after Memorial Day, and Ferry said he expected it to be quicker and more efficient due to the high return rate for the guards.

Ferry noted that the patrol’s budget for 2004 had included funds for signs on the backs of their stands. The signs would include the name of the nearest street, to help beachgoers know their location. They would also include blank areas for tidal information.

Ferry said his recommendation for the new signs would also include a pre-printed area for beach rules, but committee members objected to reinforcing rules that were already stated elsewhere, such as on beach crossovers. Ferry said he would check into pre-printing only a handful of standard safety advisories on each sign, with more room possibly left as a chalkboard for site-specific notices.

Clearing a few miscellaneous items of concern, Ferry said enforcement of surfing regulations would be of increased focus this year, with additional patrols by lieutenants and consideration of a second set of red flags to increase surfers’ ability to see where the surfing area ends.

He also said complaints about the use and parking of the patrols all-terrain vehicle would be addressed by reminding guards to park the vehicle behind the stands and adding emergency lights to it.

Brans also noted that the town’s police department had been looking into offering waterproof identity bracelets to assist with cases of lost children. Committee members said that while the intention of the idea was good, they were concerned that the bracelets were too large and would end up becoming litter on the beach.

During the discussion, Ferry noted that most cases of lost children on the beach were a one-time event, except in the case of children with autism or mental illness.
The next meeting of the Beach Patrol Committee is set for April 9 at 11 a.m.