With this cold weather, it’s hard to believe that we’re on the verge of starting beach season. We’ve started our daily patrols and it’s only a month until our first lifeguard tryouts and academy, which will happen over spring break.

Our full-time crew has been working hard to get everything ready for the season. They just finished refurbishing all 32 of the lifeguard towers, we’re going live with a new and improved website, updated and revised the Hurricane and Tidal Threat Response Plan for the Park Board of Trustees and more.

The next big project is to get all the missing and damaged signage up before people start swimming again in a few weeks. We’ve also started our Water Safety Outreach program in the schools and are preparing to ramp up a number of community programs including Junior Lifeguards, The Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, Wave Watchers, At Risk Kids Camp, Lifeguard Scholarship program, etc.

The Jesse Tree/Beach Patrol Survivor Support Network is in its 15th year and has helped around 50 families through the early stages of the coping and grieving process. They have done such a wonderful job through the years of working with hotels, restaurants, consulates, volunteer clergy, translators and mental health workers to provide an invaluable service when tragedy strikes. This week was a big step in taking this program to the next level.

I joined Lt. Kara Harrison from the beach patrol, David Mitchell from the Jesse Tree, and Iris Guererra, who is a volunteer for Jesse Tree, Survivor Support Network, and the beach patrol’s Wave Watchers program. The four of us attended a three-day certification course for individual and group crisis intervention, which is provided by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation.

The course covers the basics on how to diffuse and debrief people who have been through traumatic events. It is designed to provide care for individuals and groups. It works for a range of people including everything from normal citizens to public safety professionals. There is, of course, quite a bit of current theory, but also a lot of practice sessions and role playing. That way when you get in the field you can more smoothly apply the principles of the class to normal life.

Another benefit of the course is that this is the same training foundation that our county critical response team has and will be a way to link with this great bunch of people. Having the Jesse Tree involved, along with other groups from the county, means we’re all talking the same language and can support each other when needed. A big part of the idea of critical stress intervention for public safety groups is that you try to have people outside of your normal rank structure conduct the sessions.

Of course, the beach patrol, with its 140 or so lifeguards, has its own special needs since we deal with so many serious incidents annually. Building capacity for support of these brave men and women is invaluable in avoiding burnout and in keeping the workforce mentally healthy.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.

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