Since the age of 15, Tim Ferry has been guarding Delaware beaches. That was 40 years ago. But the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol captain wasn’t allowed to begin his 41st year without some celebration, as the Fenwick Island Town Council honored Ferry at its Aug. 28 meeting.
“There’s not much micro-management that has to occur when you’re working with” such an experienced employee, said Town Manager Merritt Burke.
More than the certificate and $50 award (per the Town personnel policy), Ferry looked amazed to receive a huge round of applause from the residents as he posed for photos with several other FIBP lifeguards.
“To say I like my job would be an understatement, but thank you,” Ferry said emotionally to the full house.
Even before beginning his 12 years as a FIBP leader, he learned to never underestimate anything on the beach, regardless riptides or calm water. Vacationing locally as a child, he’s always been enchanted by everything about the beach, from the sand to the small town.
“Once I got hooked on the lifeguard thing — it’s kind of hard to explain — it just felt right,” he said. “Once you save that first person — and it doesn’t mean they have to be on their way to drowning — … it’s really a feeling you can never replace. Unless you experience that, it’s really hard to understand.”
Other emergency responders can understand what it’s like to imagine “What if I wasn’t there?”
“When you know that you work hard, you train, you do the best you positively can,” and provide safe conditions, “that’s a great feeling,” Ferry said.
He recalled a particularly heavy surf day at Bethany Beach, when he and his stand partner had a combined 35 rescues on Campbell Street. A passing nor’easter churned the surf, and Ferry had to go around the jetty for rescues. He still recalls his captain being on shore when he came in again.
“That’s what it’s all about, being able to perform in those conditions,” he said.
There are plenty of happy endings, but also some sad ones. Sometimes people are flown to the hospital and some of them remain paralyzed to this day.
“It comes with the territory. We can only prevent so much,” Ferry said.
But it’s all about preparation and prevention, so those guards can dive in as fast as possible.
“It’s a group effort on patrol.” With a strong retention rate every summer, Ferry said, “My staff — I couldn’t ask anything more of them.” They’re fun, but they work hard, and they work out hard. “I couldn’t ask anything more than they’ve given.”
By entering the education field, Ferry still had summers free, but now he takes a teacher’s perspective. Ferry said he sees lifeguarding as “an extension of the classroom. … If you provide a good environment for those kids to learn, you’re going to get the best out of them.”
Ferry also received tributes from both chambers of Delaware General Assembly, honoring his dedication, which has included more than 500 rescues in those 40 years.
“I love what I do, so I don’t need that recognition, but I was just kind of floored that they were willing to recognize me,” Ferry said. “It’s not just about being a lifeguard. It’s about serving the people in Delaware.”
Ferry is the current president of the Sussex County Lifesaving Association and was a longtime vice president and Delaware delegate to the United States Lifesaving Association’s Mid-Atlantic Region.
Ferry was also part of an award-winning Delaware delegation at the recent USLA National Lifeguard Championships in Dayton Beach, Fla. He took first place in the Master’s Beach Flags competition (with Brad Hart winning the Men’s Open 2K Beach Run), helping Sussex County earn a sixth place overall finish against 1,000 other guards from across the nation.
He also announced that the Junior Lifeguard program had another successful season, with 100 participants, “which proves to be a good feeder program for the patrol,” Ferry said.
By training today’s youngsters, FIBP gets a head-start on training tomorrow’s guards. This summer, about 15 former junior guards were paid staff in the lifeguard stands.
As of mid-August, the FIBP had 79 rescues, 11 lost and returned persons, 15 medical emergencies, four ambulance calls and 314 ATV/side-by-side transportation requests.