Lifeguards and Public Relations: Beach Closures and AWOLs

Closed Beaches Closed Opportunities


Since the three drownings that occurred in 2010 at Stearn's Park, the year the City of Ludington and its mayor (a mayor who had made it an issue in his previous elections to have lifeguards, and who re-emphasied that point in 2009 after the documented saving of three young lives by the lifeguard squad) decided to quash that program at the end of 2009, the Park Beach Patrol has monitored what goes on.   Starting in the summer of 2011, this program cost over $40,000 its first year (which included the costs of life rings, etc.) and has/will cost around $30,000 in each of the last two years. 


The lifeguard program, which put three rescue-trained lifeguards at the beach throughout the day, cost about $20,000 for wages and around $5000 for other expenses normally, and only about $23,000 in its last year of 2009.  These youths would often be utilized for other activities if the weather was not conducive to beach use.  Beyond their training, they had access to rescue gear that they could use in incidents requiring their service, and they provided a friendly face for all beachgoers, and summer jobs for those who excelled in the Ludington swimming programs.  With three lifeguards at the water's edge, the beach was never shut down, but swimming was closely monitored and regulated whenever inclement conditions occurred.


Enter the Beach Patrol era.  In 2011, two people patrolled the beach total per week.  Four days would have one patroller on duty, and they would team up towards the weekends for three days.  As noted here in the Ludington Torch, the patrol members were not trained in rescue operations, but were there to observe and report, like a paid neighborhood watch.  Often, you'd have a hard time finding them, if you were on the beach, but when they did hit the beach, they would be riding their little cart, making a criss-cross pattern over the beach. 


They 'improved' the patrol in 2012 and pretty much kept those standards in 2013, but even though the staff was CPR certified and had the background for rescue, they seemed to get more harder to find than ever unless you were back in the grassy area or parking area where they were doing mostly enforcement issues if anything, or tooling down the sidestreets between the Police Station and the beach. 


Furthermore, with the 2010 drownings, the City of Ludington decided to start closing the beach to swimming on inclement weather days where rip tide currents were present or other dangers may be present.  This has happened on several days (sometimes the full beach) since that time, including most of Friday until about 10 AM on Saturday, as noted in this weekend's City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews). 



As has been noted in this paper, whenever the beach does get closed, it upsets a lot of people that like to go out in the waves.  A "mass exodus of beach goers leaving Stearn's after they were told no swimming would be allowed." generally describes what happens every time.  I would dare say it is a wise policy when you do not have three rescue-trained lifeguards in the area that would be able to witness unsafe behavior and intervene before an unsafe condition or problem results.  But it is not a wise policy for tourism or public relations (or even overall public safety) to dictatorially close the beach and send the tourists out to the curves, Buttersville, or the State Park to swim in more dangerous waters where they are more likely to drown. 


Absent While on Patrol, Speeding Unsafely Through Town


Starting last Tuesday, July 9, I visited the beach riding my bicycle during the middle of the afternoon three times.  Each time, it was great weather for the beach, and twice there were some mild whitecaps on the water.  Each time, there was no member of the beach patrol present that I could see even though I looked hard for their cart, their bicycle or their trademark white dress shirts.  The middlemost time on July 11, I described my experience with John Shay and copied it to our two ranking police officers and the mayor as such in an E-mail: 


"...Also on Thursday, I noticed there was no beach patrol working at the beach in the middle of the afternoon (about 2:40 PM) , in the fifteen minutes I was there. I looked around everywhere. When I got back to my place on Dowland, I noticed shortly thereafter, Beach Patrol member Matt Murphy shooting up Dowland Street, and decided to follow on my bike. He was much faster than the 20 mph I was doing on my bike, over 30 mph at the least. He wound up at the Ludington DPW, about 3 miles from where he should be posted. I tried to follow him again on my way back, but he was doubling my distance when I was going around 20 mph, and I lost him. Is this what we call beach safety? Please, consider this not only a reminder of these unlawful events that should be corrected, but also a FOIA request for the reprimands and dispositions of what you intend to do about these unlawful occurences, after you made sure the law was known. Thanks again."



Previously, the City Manager had agreed that he would follow the State's ORV/ATV laws (at the prosecutor's recommendation) and the first half of my E-mail was a picture I took of a Municipal Marina Employee riding a true golf cart on the nearby streets and sidewalk.  ORVs are not permitted on streets/roads unless expressly permitted by local laws. 


But I got a reply that told me that the laws do not apply to Marina employees and Policeman Murphy can speed up and down the residential streets of Ludington well away from his bailiwick in a vehicle unsafe for street travel, with tires made for travel across sand, and with no doors.  Here's the response I received saying that no disciplinary action is forthcoming to address these safety and liability issues. 

Response, 7-12-2013 FOIA.pdf


So the beach patrol people can hide away from everyone during the times they may be needed, ride on the City streets well over the speed limit on a licensed ORV designed for off-road travel, and everything is okay.  Meanwhile, we have unprotected beaches where we pay these patrollers more than what we ever paid for three rescue trained lifeguards who never seemed to violate the laws of the state, and did their jobs with utmost courtesy and professionalism.  

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Replies to This Discussion

Thanks X, and to tell the absolute truth, these aren't the first "close calls at Stearns Park", this summer, so far too. I hate to say it, but, 13 isn't exactly a lucky number either. It's really hard to cure stupid, when fate knocks on the door, and you continue to ignore it, and look another way, just so you can continue to be always right, and aloof to what's going on around you. These repeated snooty FOIA replies just show the extent of contempt for any overseers of the COL's agenda. It should be obvious, that whomever the person is that points out serious safety defects in the fabric of the COL's firm posture on the lifeguard program at the beach, are going to be met with like responses. Sameo with the ORV issues. That's perhaps not only deadly, but a seriously flawed trust right now. We still have six, (6), weeks of very busy activity yet in that zone too right now.


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