July 11, 2008

No Day at the Beach for Lifeguards Visitors, Rescues Up This Year at Salisbury Reservation

By Katie Curley, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Jul. 11--SALISBURY -- Early yesterday morning a line of cars idled, waiting to get into the Salisbury Beach State Reservation as myriad colored umbrellas, towels and chairs lined the beach.

On a hot summer day, the reservation and Salisbury center can be a busy place for lifeguards, and this year it seems even more hectic.

"I think because of the gas prices, people are staying local and coming here," said lifeguard Kris Reslow.

Though their numbers have declined over the years due to state budget cuts, Salisbury lifeguards have noticed more beach traffic this year than in the past. And that means more rescues.

"Last year we had 59 rescues all summer," said Fletcher Lawson, a lifeguard for the past four summers. "This summer we are already up to 25."

Currently there are up to 16 lifeguards spread along the 3.8 miles of beach and the Salisbury center. Lifeguard supervisor George Nigro, who started supervising lifeguards in 1983, remembers a time when 56 lifeguards manned the beach. Now, roughly half of the beach is guarded.

While beachgoers are encouraged to swim near a lifeguard, the guards are also responsible for those who run into trouble in unmanned areas of the beach.

"Forty percent of our rescues are in unmanned areas of the beach," Lawson said. "We are still liable there."

On a picturesque summer day, thousands of people cram onto the beach, making the job of a lifeguard more preventive than pro-active. But with their eyes glued to the water, their job is to make sure everyone stays safe.

While most of the rescues involve treating people for heat exhaustion or heat stroke and reeling people in who went out too far, both Nigro and Lawson agree the rip currents are the biggest cause of rescues on Salisbury Beach.

"The rip currents have gotten worse over the years," Nigro said. "Before 2000 we only had about five rescues a year, then there was a big winter storm and the beach changed and now we have several more rescues."

And while the state hasn't invested in more lifeguards at the beach, it has invested in the facilities.

Over the past year, a new, $2 million lifeguard post was built, which the staff moved into three weeks ago. There, a full first aid station is available to transport those in need and to provide minor medical services. The two-story building with a blue and white beach motif includes a meeting room overlooking miles of beach and ocean and separate showers and dressing areas for the lifeguards. A deck opens up from the top room into the salty air.

Most of the work, of course, is outside.

A day in the life of a Salisbury Beach Reservation lifeguard starts early with a group workout -- abdominal exercises, sprints along the beach and a timed swim in the sometimes icy waters.

"We have some really good swimmers on staff," Nigro said. "Most can swim 500 yards in eight minutes and we have some competitive swimmers."

Nigro, half swim coach and half supervisor, is also the swimming coach at Haverhill High School, where he recruits strong swimmers to take the lifeguarding test.

"No matter what the conditions, we do swim every day," Nigro said. "We need to be ready to go no matter what."

The majority of water rescues, Lawson says, are minor and don't need emergency medical services. It isn't until a person swallows a large amount of sea water, coughing and showing signs of drowning, that he or she is transported.

Lifeguards watch for the currents by searching out areas of the water in which no waves are breaking and appear darker and deeper than the surrounding waters.

The strong currents are hard even for the lifeguards to swim against in the course of a rescue.

"We have to swim alongside the current, then go in for the rescue at an angle," Lawson said.

Lawson notes the rip currents can be 20 feet long and 50 feet wide in some areas. While the lifeguards are aware of where the currents typically form, they are always changing location and can grab swimmers of all ages and skill levels.

"We've rescued kids as young as 5 from rip currents and adults as old at 50," Nigro said. "There is no typical age."

In order to be safe on the beach, Nigro says pack sunscreen, bug spray -- and common sense. For any questions about the beach or swimming, just ask the lifeguards.

"Its a day at the beach, have fun," Nigro said.

Safety Tips for Beachgoers

r Stay hydrated and pack extra fluids

r Bring bug spray -- the greenheads are biting at Salisbury Reservation

r Stay where the waves break in order to avoid rip currents.

r Stay where you can touch the bottom.

r Watch out for elderly people and children.

r Respect the rules of the state park.

r Swim where a lifeguard is stationed.

r Practice common sense and read signs.


What: Salisbury Beach State Reservation

When: Open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Memorial Day to Labor Day

30th Annual Salisbury Beach 5-mile race will be held Saturday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. to benefit the Salisbury Beach lifeguards.

For more information, call the lifeguard station at 978-462-4481.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

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