Safety First

Updated 4 years ago Sundae Horn
Ocracoke's lifeguards from Surf Rescue, contracted by NPS. Taken at 11:59 am, Thursday, 7/31/14.
Ocracoke's lifeguards from Surf Rescue, contracted by NPS. Taken at 11:59 am, Thursday, 7/31/14.
Photo by Philip Howard.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore promises to fund lifeguards in 2015.

UPDATE: Chief Ranger Paul Stevens called me today! He wanted to let me know that an announcement about lifeguards would be coming "soon," issued from the new superintendent. It will be sent out as a press release, possibly within a few weeks. Stevens would neither confirm nor deny that the Seashore intends to fund the lifeguards. All will be revealed with the announcement. We'll wait with 'bated breath. In the meantime, it never hurts to let NPS know how you feel about lifeguards. You can reach Ranger Stevens at paul_stevens@nps.gov or the superintendent's office at whitny_howeth@nps.gov

According to Congressman Walter B. Jones’s office, acting superintendent Kym Hall assured the Congressman’s staff that the Seashore will find money in the budget for lifeguards.  

Is it too soon to give thanks?

“Please rest assured that the Congressman will continue to monitor the situation closely to make sure the Park Service doesn’t back away from that pledge,” wrote Legislative Director Joshua Bowlen in an email on November 14th.

Over the past two months, the Ocracoke Current has pestered the Seashore staff repeatedly about their plans for lifeguards in 2015.

My recent calls and emails have been ignored. (Except by Public Affairs Specialist Cyndy Holda, who was really great about calling me back about South Point Road, but didn’t know anything she was willing to share about the lifeguard budget.)

And it’s not just me! Hyde County manager Bill Rich told me today that Kym Hall hasn't returned his calls, either.

The questions I haven’t been able to ask are: will the Seashore hire NPS-employed lifeguards and run the program themselves, or will they contract those services again this year?

By “paying” for lifeguards do they mean “paying for the total cost” or “paying for part of the cost and weaseling out of paying the rest by forcing the neighboring counties to chip in?" Will Hyde and Dare be asked to contribute more or less this year? 

NPS may have answered my first question indirectly. On Friday, they issued a press release inviting potential Park employees to a workshop on how to get a Summer Job with the Seashore. The list of job openings includes fee collectors, information services, maintenance, biotech positions, interpretive ranger jobs – but no lifeguards.

One thing I do know is that the Park was content with the contract lifeguards they hired in 2014.

In late October, Chief Ranger Paul Stevens told me that the Seashore had completed an “After Action Review (AAR)” with the lifeguard contractor, all three district rangers, the deputy superintendent, and the contracting officer's representative. 

“Overall, most all of the comments in the AAR were positive about the services we received with this contractor,” he wrote in an email.  “I would also like to note that the contractor we selected was formerly a NPS Lifeguard and his company also contracts lifeguard services for Duck, Southern Shores, and Dare County to USLA standards.”

The contractor is Mirek Dabrowski at Surf Rescue, who also did not return my phone call. 

As for my second question…. Will NPS cough up the entire cost of guarding public  beaches?

Well, they do seem to regret that cutting lifeguards from the budget last year caused a brouhaha in the local communities.

Acting Superintendent Kym Hall and just-hired-permanently deputy superintendent Mark Dowdle attended the September meeting of the Hyde County Board of Commissioners, in part to explain their intent to re-visit the decision to defund lifeguards. (Yes, that really is the kind of bureaucrat-speak they use.)

Hall began by thanking the board for helping to pay for the contract lifeguard service this year, and explaining that NPS hadn’t begun budget discussions for 2015 yet.

“It’s clear to me that this need is greater than just one beach, one lifeguard. It’s about being accessible to the public and being family-friendly,” she said. “We’ll take this opportunity to go back and re-look at budget situation.”

She said at the meeting that former superintendent Barclay Trimble “made a difficult choice” and that she was “committed to re-visiting it” and would ask whether the Seashore should “shift priorities.”  She also mentioned that tourism and economy in the communities around the Seashore are an important consideration. 

Deputy superintendent Dowdle introduced himself as a “North Carolina boy who’s come home again.” He said that the most rewarding part of his job was partnering with local communities and local government. “We want to be a good neighbor,” he said.

When I talked to Hall in October, she had only a few weeks left in her term here in NC, but said they hadn’t yet started the planning for 2015. That would happen in mid-November, but “it doesn’t mean a decision will be made that day. Decisions will be made as we work through the budget.” 

“We started a new fiscal year on October 1st, but are using the continuing resolution, she said. “We’ll decide soon how to allocate budget, but won’t know what we can spend until we get final budget from Congress.”

Hall said they would address questions like: What’re the budget priorities? What’s coming up that needs attention? How do we make dollars go farther? Can we carve out the money for lifeguards? What did we learn from 2014?

That doesn’t really answer the full-funding question, though, because Hall also mentioned that the Park likes to “partner with local communities.” Will that partnership involve county money again this year? 

“We know the communities are family-oriented,” she said. “The Park sees itself as part of the larger communities. The bigger message at play is making visitors feel welcome and safe.”

Hall (who got a vote of confidence from Ocracoke’s rangers) will leave soon (or maybe she already has and that’s why she doesn’t return my calls….) and be replaced by our new Superintendent Dave Hallac, who will arrive in January.

As for our former former superintendent Barclay Trimble, he got promoted to the Southeast Regional office in Atlanta and will help influence decisions about Cape Hatteras National Seashore, because as Hall put it, “he knows the Park.”

The AAR report included this information for the 3 lifeguarded beaches (Ocracoke, Buxton, and Coquina)

2014 lifeguard reports for seashore

39,610 people

322 advisories

6 medical aid (5 minor, 1 major)

4 water rescue (all minor)

70 visitor assistance

We did have one fatality on Ocracoke this summer. A 59-year old male visitor was pulled from the water and given CPR by bystanders and then Ocracoke EMS before he was pronounced dead. “It wasn’t a rip current,” said paramedic Dave Keiffer back when it happened in June. “We believe health issues precipitated the event; it was health-related rather than water related.”

 

 

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