Lifeguards could do a lot more with more manpower, equipment, and powers to enforce the advice they give to beach users, acting General Manager of the National Conservation Commission (NCC) Ryan Als has said
Als showered lifeguards with praise for doing an ‘excellent job of’ keeping Barbadians and visitors alike safe on the island’s beaches following the end of the NCC’s annual Operation S.O.S (Save Our Selves) in which the lifeguards teach people of all ages to swim.
Fifty participants, 35 of them were newcomers, were awarded their certificates after successfully completing the course. Als said: “We have 67 lifeguards covering the 17 beaches where we have stations, but we really need about 30 more to cover those beaches adequately.”
But voicing his concern about the number of drowning incidents, the NCC manager: “Any drowning or rescue we have to perform is a serious thing.
“We not only record, but we analyse why these things are happening and how to mitigate them.
“We check to see if we have the correct procedures, and we recognise that each beach has its own peculiarities and its own hazards.
“The sea is a dynamic place, and as things change hazards may increase but in our training, we have to stay ahead of these things.
‘For example, if we realize we have issues in certain locations at certain times of the year, we may deploy more people, but we do not always have the numbers.
“Nevertheless, we are still doing a good job.”
Issuing an appeal for vessels, the NCC head said a lifeguard’s job was grueling because sometimes they had to swim out as far as one kilometer offshore to carry out rescue operations.
He said: “Having to swim a kilometer out to rescue someone is not easy; but they have to get to the person, stabilise them, and then bring them back to shore.
“If they had rescue craft, which is a vessel similar to a jet ski, they could get out to the people in distress within seconds rather than minutes. The rescue craft will also enable them to help more than one person at a time.”
Als added that the NCC wanted to see an amendment to the present laws governing lifeguards to give them greater authority to stop people from venturing into the water when advised against it.
He said: “Right now, lifeguards cannot stop anyone from going into the water, they can only advise.
“The chairman of our board is very concerned about this, and we are putting together the necessary documentation to get this done, but naturally that process will take time.”
The course participants were commended for their courage in overcoming their fear of the water.
Deputy Chairman of the NCC Alicia Carter, told them: “You are not only going away with a skill that saves lives but with greater respect and knowledge of the aquatic environment and how to be safe in it and around it.
“You can now pass on this knowledge to other people you know, and you could very well use your ability to swim to make a difference in another person’s life when you save their loved one from danger.”
Speaking on behalf of the class of 2019, 70-year-old David Stuart, who took part in the course with his wife, said he was afraid of water for many years after someone pushed him off a pier in an attempt to teach him to swim when he was a child.
He praised the lifeguards for their teaching skills and encouraged all Barbadians to take part in the course and recommended that it be done more than once a year.