26 new lifeguards join the ranks of OCBP

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OCEAN CITY — It’s one week comprised of intensive training in everything from first aid and CPR to the fundamentals of rowing a lifeboat to the emotions of dealing with a lost child and the drama involved in a major, death-defying, multi-victim rescue.

For 26 rookie lifeguards on the Ocean City Beach Patrol, the training is just the beginning. The newly minted lifeguards, having successfully mastered the basics, have now fanned out throughout the city’s four zones for hands-on, real life experience. Working side-by-side with experienced guards in each zone for one week at a time, they’ll build on rudimentary skills as veteran guards pass on valuable lessons.

Known as “rookie school,” the rigorous week is led by training instructor Mark Jamison and assistant instructor Paul Boardman.

The Ocean City High School graduates and veteran guards understand the importance of serious training, and also remember their own rookie seasons. For the former Red Raider athletes, who are also both educators, it’s a weeklong labor of love.

“It’s a great week. For Paul and me it’s a real fun time,” Jamison said. “It’s a learning experience even for us. No two rookie classes are the same. We encounter different situations with different kids. They ask different questions and react differently. Paul and I enjoy seeing how much they grow in five days. It’s really amazing. It’s a real progression; they’re very nervous, a little anxious in the beginning and by the end of the week they’ve made friends and bonded with each other and they feel a lot more confident.

“We try to teach them the skills and techniques that they will need to use on a day-to-day basis, and to do it in a way so they avoid injury,” Jamison said. “We walk them through the process.”

The rookies learn CPR and first aid from firefighter Ray Clark. Lifeguards have to be prepared to handle a medical emergency until an EMT arrives at the scene. A few years ago, Boardman was off duty riding his bicycle past the tennis courts when he noticed a man on the sidewalk in cardiac arrest. Quick thinking and the ability to perform CPR saved the man’s life.

Jamison said rookie school occurred at a time when rookies had numerous opportunities to witness real-life rescues due to rip currents at the north end beaches where the guards were training last week.

“One day we had a big rescue at Fifth Street,” Jamison said.

The rookies saw firsthand how the guards ran beach to beach in relay fashion to fill in for one another so extra guards could assist their colleagues at Fifth Street.

“This year we had some real big waves to deal with,” Jamison said. “We took them to Ninth Street where we’ve been having a lot of problems and we did a lot of mock rescues. We did some search and rescue work. In a week we try to cover just about everything. We are a branch of the fire department, so we did some work with them in water rescue.

“By the end of the week, we hope that they learn enough that when they get out there on a stand they will be ready if one of these situations crops up one day. We want them to feel confident, it takes a while, but that’s the goal,” he said.

The most important thing, Jamison said, is learning a “preventative style” of lifeguarding.

“You don’t want to be reactive, you want to prevent a situation from occurring,” he said. Teaching rookies what to watch for and what to expect is critical, he said.

“This week is a crash course in lifeguarding. It takes time to put it all in perspective. We do a lot of retraining through the year, we keep reminding them, keep it fresh, keep building on what they’re learning, put it to use,” Jamison said. “They really have to take what they’ve learned and learn how to apply it to real-life situations.”

Some of the rookies, he said, will qualify to use the personal watercraft. Others may want to join the competition team.

“We work on conditioning, we swim, paddle, run and row,” he said.

Jamison, in his 14th year on the OCBP, is a physical education and health teacher at Egg Harbor Township High School.

“My focus, year round is avoiding injury, and safety,” he said. “At the end of the week, it’s really pretty cool for Paul and I to see them so excited to get out on the beach and put their skills to use.”

At the end of the week, 26 new “red shirts” joined the 160-member OCBP.

“It’s one of the highlights of the season for us,” Jamison said. “We’ll see them throughout the summer, each time they’ll be standing a little taller. We had a great group of rookies; we’re going to have some great new lifeguards.”

“We teach them a lot of things, not just physical and medical training,” Jamison said. “There is a lot to learn about lifeguarding, like public relations, how to talk to people.”

Depending on the beach, a lot of bathers, he said, are new to the island. Many have to be taught about the dangers of rip currents, the tide and the waves. Guards have to be able to answer questions and treat the public with respect while also maintaining control and a safe atmosphere.

“We start the ball rolling, that’s something they learn throughout the summer,” Jamison said. “When they start working through the zones, each guard passes something on. They learn more and more each day. We start to get a feel for what kind of guard they are going to be and where they might fit in the best. We get a lot of feedback, we help them out. At the end of the four weeks, they will be assigned to one zone.”

Jamison said the rookies will continue to receive training throughout the summer.

“You have to crawl before you can walk,” Jamison said.

Lifeguard Dillon Hoffman assists in teaching rowing skills; Tony Mehalack with surf dashing skills.

“It’s really a process, the rookie year. It takes the whole summer,” Jamison said. “It takes many years, really. You’re really always learning as a lifeguard. Every summer the beaches change, sometimes they change from day-to-day, the conditions change, the tide and wind change, and every day there are new people on some of the beaches. That’s what makes lifeguarding so interesting and exciting.” 

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