Spindrift December 21, 2023

MEETING Shirley Lashmett opened. Ed Romeo read the Prayer of St. Francis (see right). Dave Schapiro led the pledge. 

ANNOUNCEMENT Diane Daruty introduced her guest Parks, Beaches, and Recreation Commissioner Heather Ignatin. Dr. Bob Wood revealed he and Roy Shlemon won the football books. Mike Gertner stated the final football pool results for the season. Gale Demmer, Dave, and Richard Swinney chose the fewest winners with Gale furthest from the tiebreaker number and taking the low man title. Gina Lesley, Ed Romeo, and Roy finished first, second, and third, respectively. Mike said Dave Robins will continue the tradition of the Superbowl betting. 

PROGRAM Diane introduced Brian O’Rourke, Newport Beach’s Assistant Chief of Lifeguard Operations. He earned an A.A. from Orange Coast College where he competed for the swim and water polo teams, and a B.S. in Occupational Studies from Long Beach State with an emphasis in life safety and emergency management. In 1987, Brian joined Lifeguards where, before his current position, he worked as a Tower Guard, Rescue Boat Operator, Training Officer for seasonal lifeguards, Junior Guard Coordinator, and Lifeguard Battalion Chief. 

Brian thanked us for our work with youth and the military. He is a Field of Honor fan and appreciates our support of Newport Beach 1st Battalion, 1st Marines Foundation as he is on its Advisory Committee. 

Newport Beach Lifeguard Operations is an arm of the Fire Department and Brian reports to the Fire Chief. Lifeguard Operation’s mission is to educate beach visitors on ocean dangers to prevent death or injury, respond to potential drownings and emergencies, and conduct the Junior Guard Program (JGs). 

Brian oversees the towers, patrol vehicles, rescue boats, and JGs, and manages 200 seasonal lifeguards, 15 permanent lifeguards, and life-guard administrative staff. 

Lifeguard Operations is on the frontline of public safety for Newport’s six miles of ocean beaches. Daily, they operate 38 towers, 3 rescue boats, and multiple vehicles. Annu-ally, Newport’s lifeguards are responsible for 10 million beach visitors. Depending on the surf and swell, they conduct 2,500 to 4,000 ocean rescues and take 150,000 preventative actions (e.g., warning of the dangers of the surf, instructing people to move from it when necessary, etc.) Brian’s lifeguards are proficient, as they essentially have zero fatalities. The City has experienced a few drownings but where and when a lifeguard is not on duty. 

In addition to prevention and rescues, with the assistance of other Fire Department personnel, lifeguards provide medical aid. Occasionally, this involves life-threatening situations such as traumatic neck injuries at the wedge. Lifeguards also perform code enforcement. For example, they advise against digging deep holes in the sand. In 2011, a child dug so deep that the sand collapsed on him. 

Fortunately, he was saved. Lifeguards also stop bond fires on the beach. 

One of the most dangerous and horrific lifeguard incidents occurred almost ten years ago. It was the end of a busy 4th of July week-end with abnormally large and turbulent surf. In the early evening, lifeguard Ben Carlson and a fellow lifeguard were patrolling in a rescue boat beyond the large surf and discovered a distressed swimmer. Ben jumped in and reached the man, but as they made their way back to the boat, both were hit by a large wave. The man made it to the surface and was rescued, but Ben was missing for several hours. He was found more than a half mile away from the rescue location. It was concluded he was the victim of an accidental drowning. Since the service was formed in 1923, Ben was the first and only Newport Beach lifeguard to die in the line of duty. 

Brian discussed JGs, which are presented by 50 lifeguards and other staff. JGs’ mission is to teach 1,400 participants beach and ocean safety. Participants experience additional benefits such as improved fitness through running and swimming and competitions that build self-esteem. JGs’ instructors inspire many of the kids to become lifeguards and competitive athletes and to achieve other successes. 

In 2024, JGs will celebrate its 40th year. It also expects to enjoy its first summer in its new headquarters (the project experienced weather and other delays preventing a 2023 opening). As a condition of approving the headquarters, each year, the Coastal Commission is requiring JGs to award scholarships to underprivileged children. JGs must raise funds for the scholarships. It is doing so by fundraising with Spirit Run and by accepting donations. Brian thanked us for our recent $2,000 donation that will fund two scholarships in 2024. JG’s ultimate goal is to award 20 scholarships annually. 

Mitch Mitchell asked about the qualifications to become a lifeguard. Brian said it is a very competitive process seeking the most qualified people. Candidates must be 16 years old by March 1st, place high in swimming and running competitions, pass a formal interview, and attend a weekend academy. Yearly, lifeguards must requalify for their positions, including competing in a swim race, upkeeping first aid and CPR certifications, and completing a minimum of 16 hours of training. Brian noted that currently there are 25 female lifeguards including 2 who work full-time. Notably, the requirements for men and women are the same. 

Dave asked whether the department receives any county or state funding. Brian replied most funding comes from property, occupancy, and other City taxes. 

Brian picked the raffle winners, Ed, and Gary Tewinkle. Shirley closed with her thought of the day 

“From home to home and heart to heart, from one place to another, the warmth and joy of Christmas brings us closer to each other.” 

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Mike Marquardt

Mike Marquardt