The first day of summer was a busy one for the Long Beach lifeguards, who pulled a total of 11 people from the water last Friday.
“It’s hectic out here,” said Chief of Lifeguards Paul Gillespie. “People are not supposed to be in the water. They don’t realize how bad it is. They don’t understand we’re not [on-duty].”
Starting last Saturday, and running until Labor Day, lifeguards will be stationed at Long Beach beaches every day of the week. Before then, lifeguards were only stationed on the weekends, and during the week beachgoers were prohibited from entering the water. But Gillespie said that didn’t keep people from swimming, and consequently, the lifeguards from working.
“When you have a full staff, you can control the situation,” he said. “When you don’t have [lifeguards on duty], that’s when drownings occur because people don’t know where to swim.”
Gillespie said that during the weekdays, there were only eight lifeguards — or a rope crew, as they are called when off-duty — to patrol the entire beach. The strong winds last week created wind swells, which Gillespie said, “kicked up the waves a bit.” A major problem, he said, is that, when no lifeguards are on-duty, there are no flags posted telling people where it is safe to swim, and swimmers unknowingly put themselves in dangerous situations.
Gillespie said that one teenage girl who was rescued on Friday was sent to a local hospital after she nearly drowned, but that she was released and is doing fine.
Additionally, lifeguards rescued three swimmers who were dragged out past the jetty. In addition to the 11 people rescued last Friday, nine people in distress were pulled out of the water by lifeguards last Thursday, he said.
Not included in those nine rescues was an incident last Thursday afternoon at Pacific Boulevard, where two quick-thinking teens rescued a swimmer in distress. Brittany Waller, a 14-year-old Long Beach High School freshman, said that she was playing on the beach with her friends last Thursday, when a bystander ran over and said there was a man in the water who was drowning, and asked for help.
Waller, an avid swimmer, has been in the junior lifeguard program since she was 10, and she leapt into action.