South Bethany lifeguards are being credited with saving the life of a beachgoer who had a heart attack while on the beach last month.
According to South Bethany Beach Patrol Capt. Ben Chandlee, only about 10 percent of heart attack victims survive. That survival rate increases to 30 percent when an automated external defibrillator (AED) device is available for immediate treatment of the victim.
“That’s not very much,” Chandlee said of those slightly improved odds when discussing the incident just over a week later, on July 11.
In this case, he said, the AED device donated to the beach patrol by the South Bethany Property Owners Association was used successfully on the victim on July 2.
Additional assistance was provided by a worker installing new dune fencing on the beach. Chandlee said the man brought his flatbed truck to the south end of the beach to facilitate the victim’s transfer to an ambulance.
“That probably also saved his life,” Chandlee said. “A number of factors enabled him to survive. We were very lucky. That man was very lucky. With all those factors combined, we saved his life. … Our rookie guards saved that man’s life,” Chandlee emphasized. “Without their response, he wouldn’t be here today.”
Mayor Kathy Jankowski noted that emergency responders had commented after the incident on how well the lifeguards had done with the heart attack victim, who she noted had reportedly fallen unconscious three different times during the incident.
The emergency responders weren’t the only ones appreciative of the beach patrol’s efforts. Chandlee said the victim had been transported to Beebe Medical Center after being revived by lifeguards and had survived his brush with death in good enough shape to return to his vacation within the week.
“He returned today to thank them,” Chandlee noted, praising the combined efforts of everyone involved, “and it was his birthday today.”
Rough seas, Junebugs keep guards busy
SBBP members have been busy with dozens of other incidents this summer — 45 in June alone, Chandlee reported. Incidents in that period ranged from that heart attack to a lacerated lip incurred from a rough impact in the shorebreak, as well as a foot impaled by a fish hook, a sprained ankle, and two spinal injuries in which the victims were transported to the hospital for treatment.
The lifeguards have also gone above and beyond their duties, Chandlee said, including the after-hours rescue from a rip current of an 18-year-old swimmer whom Chandlee said had been told repeatedly during the guarded beach hours that day to stay out of the rough water.
“He waited until they got off and then went in,” Chandlee said. “It was fortunate they were there and saved that guy’s life.”
Chandlee said the beach patrol had been forced to close the beach several times in mid-June, due to large surf and lightning.
He noted that SBBP members had also rescued a number of other swimmers who had left South Bethany’s beach for the State-controlled beach to the south when they, too, were told it was too dangerous to swim. He said the bulk of those being rescued from the rough waters during that time period were so-called “Junebugs,” visiting the beach for senior week after their high-school graduations.
Chandlee also reported additional incidents of vandalism and theft related to the patrol’s lifeguard stands. Since the summer season began, the SBBP has had several lifeguard stands stolen or damaged each month. Sometimes, the stands have been dragged into the ocean. Others have simply been damaged while on the beach.
Many of those found after having been left in the surf have been damaged, as well. One that went missing in mid-June was found south of the state park beach, in what Chandlee said was “unsalvageable condition,” with its legs broken off.
The Town has been repairing and replacing the stands as quickly as possible, but Chandlee had previously noted that the vandalism is something the beach patrols have come to expect, since it happens each summer.
However, Bethany Beach’s beach patrol recently took the exceptional step of chaining their stands to anchor posts on the beach each night, to prevent both vandalism and potential rough use by beachgoers who could also be injured while climbing on the stands.
“It’s not unusual that, at 3 or 4 in the morning, visitors to the town try to send the lifeguard stands to Europe,” Bethany Beach Town Manager Cliff Graviet explained wryly at a July 20 council meeting in that town. He said the Town of Bethany Beach had moved earlier that week to put in 14 or 15 anchors on the beach, “and chain the stands to them as a slight impediment to those industrious enough to try to do something with the lifeguard stands.”
South Bethany guards headed to nationals
Chandlee also reported on a solid competition for the beach patrol’s lifeguard competition squad, qualifying once again for national competition, which this year was set to take place in Cape May, N.J., Aug. 8-11.
The local guards finished fifth overall in the regional competition, fifth in the men’s 4-by-100 relay, second in the women’s 4-by-100 relay, second in swimmer recue and paddle pickup, and first in beach flags and surf/swim. Chandlee noted that the South Bethany guards have previously competed against Olympic athletes in the lifeguard competitions.
“That is the level of competition we’re working with,” he said.
Guards’ readiness for heavy surf conditions questioned at meeting
Chandlee was in for some criticism at the July council meeting, though, when a property owner complained that she had been disappointed to see the South Bethany guards sitting out of the surf, bundled up, on the heavy surf days in June when no swimmers were allowed in the water. She said she felt they should have been using the time to practice their skills in heavy surf or, alternatively, should have allowed swimmers in the water, as she said a number of other local beaches had on those same days.
Jankowski said she had already discussed those concerns with Chandlee.
“We consider safety more important than anything else here,” she said. “In some circumstances, the beaches in Sea Colony and Middlesex were closed. Conditions can change along the beach, too,” she added.
Chandlee said the lifeguards had, indeed, been practicing during the days of heavy surf, though it might not have been where that property owner would have seen them.
“I feel very confident with my lifeguards in those conditions,” he said. “When the water is 62 degrees, any lifeguards are going to be wearing hoodies. We’re not going to put lifeguards at risk by asking them to go out.
“We were issued a warning that rip currents could be fatal if people got in them,” he noted. “People did go in, and individuals were pulled out of the water. The beach was closed.”
Chandlee noted the after-hour rescues of swimmers by those veteran guards and the difficulty of keeping swimmers safe during the “senior week” visits.
“We had a report from [Town Manager] Mel [Cusick] as to life-threatening conditions,” he said. “It was enough for me to realize that it was enough to not put anyone at risk, especially 4-year-olds. It’s not our abilities we’re concerned about — it’s theirs. We want to prevent those injuries.”