Busy time for South Bethany beach patrol

“It’s surprising how busy the beach patrol has been,” commented South Bethany Town Manager Mel Cusick on July 10, as he presented the monthly activity report of the town’s lifeguards.

As of July 9, the SBBP had made 27 thus far in its summer season – 26 of those from rip currents. That figure rose to 34 rescues on July 10, as the SBBP made another seven rescues from particularly rough surf on that day alone.

In the summer of 2009 thus far, the SBBP had twice called for ambulances to come to the beach to transport beachgoers to the hospital for treatment of injuries, had given first aid 17 times and had retrieved six lost children. Along the way, they’ve also attended several lifeguard competitions, with 12 more scheduled through August.

Last week’s big drama was a shark sighting at the south end of the beach, for which South Bethany guards cleared the water.

“They’re not sure it was a shark,” Cusick emphasized, saying the guards had followed standard procedure and been cautious with swimmers’ safety. Beachgoers – and the lifeguards – have also had to deal with an unusual number of jellyfish in the waters in recent weeks.

Council members made particular mention on July 10 of the details of the SBBP’s monthly report, which now comes with a description of many of the rescues and instances of assistance provided. They have ranged thus far in the summer from swimmers injured after being struck by waves or while riding waves to a fish hook-impaled foot.

“I notice a lot of breaks are being reported,” inquired Councilman John Fields. “Is this unusual?”

Cusick said that while the SBBP hasn’t kept detailed records in the past, the kinds of injuries being seen were normal, excepting the high volume seen on July 10 itself.

“It’s an excellent idea,” Fields said of the new report. “The thing that strikes me is I don’t want to go out there. It’s too dangerous,” he said with a hint of levity. The comment was greeted with laughter.

Cusick said he, too, had gotten an impression this summer of a very busy season for the beach patrol thanks to new information.

“Until last year, I didn’t have radio contact with the beach patrol,” he said. “It’s amazing now, if you listen to them, how busy it is.”

Mayor Gary Jayne noted some improvements to the treatment of injured swimmers, thanks to the switch to a Bethany Beach-based ambulance service this year.

“The ambulance response is much, much better,” he said, noting that it was running about five minutes instead of the 20 to 30 minutes it took for the Millville ambulance service to respond in prior years.

Cusick also noted the usefulness of the SBBP’s new Polaris all-terrain vehicle.

“They would have to carry (the victims) if they didn’t have it in working order,” he said. With the Polaris available, he added, lifeguards can stabilize patients on a backboard and bring them across the new dune to meet an ambulance.

“I saw that in action the other day,” said Councilwoman Marge Gassinger. “It was amazing. It got there at almost the same time [as the ambulance].”

Quiet Fourth for SBPD

With June behind them, officers of the South Bethany Police Department are getting a little bit of a breather.

“June is our busy month,” emphasized SBPD Lt. Linda O’Malley, noting the annual visit from the so-called “Junebugs” – the high-school students and graduates who flood the area after the end of the school year.

O’Malley reported a number of cases in which officers had been called out to reports of loud parties, most often warning the homes’ occupants and then having no further problems. She noted that sometimes reports of a loud party can be something as simple as a few people talking on a deck near the water, since the water reflects the noise to nearby neighbors.

On the other hand, some of the parties have yielded arrests for under-age consumption of alcohol, as well as citations for noise. One loud party even led to the SBPD calling the rental agent for the property in question, who, in turn, evicted the tenants.

O’Malley said, “99.9 percent of the time, a warning is all we have to do.” If that doesn’t resolve the issue, she said, “We call the Realtor, and they’ll come right out.”

The town’s annual battle with Fourth of July fireworks scofflaws was unusual this year in its absence.

O’Malley, who was not on duty that day, said, “I heard it was very quiet – unusually quiet, scary quiet. I don’t think there were any complaints. I saw more on Thursday night than on the weekend.”

She said officers had confiscated fireworks on July 3. “They were very visible,” she said.

Council members and residents, too, were surprised by how quiet July 4 had been.

“The week before and after the Fourth were unusually quiet,” said former councilman Bob Cestone.

“It was very quiet,” agreed Jayne. “Usually, it’s like Omaha Beach on D-Day. People break the law in front of their own kids. I don’t understand it.”

South Bethany officers made 301 traffic arrests and 13 criminal arrests in June, with 125 parking violations and 22 seatbelt violation arrests. Among the arrests were those for a drug violation in which the arrest resulted from a traffic stop; criminal mischief damage to a trash bag dispenser; and construction violations, with some violators shut down.

One thief made off with a television from a residence, in a case the SBPD is still investigating. There was no forced entry into the home, which was for sale. Another burglar did force their way into a residence but apparently fled the scene, leaving burglary tools behind but no fingerprints.

One suspect was arrested on drug charges and for under-age consumption of alcohol, as well as possession of a stungun. And SBPD officers arrested a pedestrian who was observed smoking suspected marijuana, resisted arrest, fled from police and was finally apprehended.

Mayor urges support of BBVFC

While South Bethany is looking fervently at its finances, Jayne on July 10 emphasized to those attending the council meeting that the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company is very much in need of financial support.

Jayne noted his own attendance at the BBVFC’s fundraising breakfast held July 8.

“This is really serious business, because the fire companies are getting half of the grant would ordinarily get from the state and half the grant they would ordinarily get from the county,” he said. “I won’t say they’re in dire straits. I will let them speak for themselves. But they will have to raise a lot of money, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Jayne promoted another BBVFC fundraising breakfast on first Sunday in August, as well as other events that have been scheduled to help the company raise money. On July 25, the fire hall will host a mystery dinner with Delaware Comedy Theatre, to benefit the company.

While the town is still donating $5,000 to the fire company, that’s a drop in the bucket for its operating and capital expenses.

“The other problem the volunteer fire companies have been having is that people are paying the ambulance fee on their tax bills and they think that’s the end of their obligation,” he said. “The fire and ambulance services are separate,” he emphasized. “We put financial firewalls between the fire service and ambulance service, and none of the ambulance money can cross that firewall.”

Cusick also reported on July 10 that the various parties involved in the proposed pedestrian and bicycle trail along the Assawoman Canal had not met for a while and were still waiting on the state parks commission for renderings of the project. He said at least one public hearing would be held to ask for public input.

He said none of the $5,000 the town contributed toward possible design costs had yet been spent. He said state employees were trying to do the work in-house, at state expense, rather than hiring a consultant.

Cusick said he had also applied for a University of Delaware grant of $2,000 to offset some of that $5,000 contribution.

Jayne also noted on July 10 a scheduled presentation by Bluewater Wind at Bethany Beach’s town hall on July 17 at 6 p.m. The company is now proposing to bring its wind-generated electricity from off the coast of Rehoboth Beach onto land at Bethany Beach, “which is all very interesting,” Jayne commented. “I can’t quite picture this.”