Guenther retires as BCBP chief

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Joe Guenther Joe Guenther

One summer 44 years ago, a young Brigantine man started his career on the beaches of Brigantine as a rookie lifeguard. This year, he retired as Chief of the Brigantine City Beach Patrol – a quiet, confident decision that reflected the character and leadership of the man.

Joseph Thomas Guenther began his lifeguarding career with the Brigantine Beach Patrol in June 1969. In the mid-1970s, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and in 1995 he earned the rank of captain.

“At that time that was the highest rank in the Beach Patrol, until they added the rank of chief in 2006,” said Diane Eafrati, director of city personnel.

Mayor Phil Guenther, Joe’s brother, was also his fellow lifeguard for many years on the beach.

“Joe is an exceptional person,” Guenther said. “Joe has always served as an exemplary role model for the young men and women who serve under him by keeping them focused on the Beach Patrol’s core mission of protecting lives. He was a role model for me and hundreds of young men who served on the beach. He always kept the bathers in mind. He led by example.”

Mayor Guenther noted that his brother was a gifted athlete, often winning the single and double rowing events.

“I didn’t win my first event until I partnered with Joe,” he said. “As a chief, Joe’s hallmark style was to nurture innovation… to develop new ideas for the beach patrol. The training, he developed – the rookie school and junior lifeguard programs, the use of rescue boards and jet skis; also the After Hours Water Response Team.”

That training paid off on Sept. 8, 2012, when five Beach Patrol members, including Chief Joseph Guenther, rescued two swimmers from a rip tide. City Council later presented the lifeguards with proclamations lauding their action.

“It is no surprise that [Joe] was involved in a heroic after-hours lifesaving event this past summer,” Phil Guenther said. “We are proud of him as a family.”

BCBP Senior Lt. Fran Masino considered the rescue ‘emblematic’ of his superior.

“Just like Ted Williams, Chief Joe Guenther is retiring after hitting a home run in his last at-bat,” Masino said. “After Labor Day this past fall, Chief Guenther was patrolling the beach as hurricane-fueled surf pounded the shore. After spotting two men being pulled out to sea in a vicious rip current, Chief entered the ocean and stabilized the two panicking young men until backup arrived.”

Masino had nothing but praise for the Beach Patrol’s leader.

“Joe Guenther led with actions, not words, and served as the most stand-up guy the Beach Patrol has ever known,” he said. “Joe Guenther carried himself with class, dignity and a gentlemanly manner. As one of his lieutenants, it is almost impossible to put into words what the man has meant to me and the rest of his guards and officers. I hold him in the same ring of honor as men such as the late Capt. James King, Senior Lt. Mike Sluzenski, and Lt. Rick Dove.”

Masino acknowledged that Guenther had a tough act to follow.

“Joe had the difficult honor of following Jim King as captain, and he immediately stepped up to the plate. Under his auspices, the BCBP continued to grow in its scope and professionalism, which are paramount to securing the safety of residents and visitors to the Island of Brigantine.

“When we enter the ocean, we dive into a different dimension, and it is the responsibility of the lifeguard to ensure the bather’s safety. Joe had the ability and foresight to delegate training, and other programs such as Swimming Lessons and Junior Guards, to the officers and guards he knew would get the job done.”

Masino recalled the spirit of inclusiveness Guenther promoted, saying he went out of his way to get to know every single employee he supervised.

“He was always seen making his way up and down the beach in order to talk to the most senior guard or the newly hired rookie. His was a patrol of inclusion, not exclusion, and the way he went about his duties influenced us all,” Masino said.

For the mayor of Brigantine, his brother’s retirement marks the end of an era.

“It is sad to note that for the first time since 1969, there are no Guenthers on the BCBP,” he said.

But even on a cold and rainy winter morning, the memories of summers spent guarding beaches with Chief Guenther make Senior Lt. Masino feel ‘instantly revitalized.’

“I am extremely proud to be one of his lieutenants, and even more proud to be his friend,” he said.

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