Spring break is here! We have lifeguard tryouts (rain or shine) at 7 a.m. Saturday at the city of Galveston pool at Lasker Park at 2016 43rd St. Those who pass the swim, drug test and interview will start the same day in the Lifeguard Academy and will be paid for their training time. Information is available at www.galvestonbeachpatrol.com.
Last week, we left off at the end of Part 2 of a three-part column on lifesaving history in Galveston. We were talking about the late ‘70s, when the Galveston Island Beach Patrol had been switched multiple times between municipal departments, with no real commitment for funding or ownership. High drowning rates became a civil and tourism issue and something needed to be done.
Sen. Babe Schwartz, Jim McCloy, Sheriff Joe Max Taylor and many others all contributed significantly. The result of multiple discussions was that the sheriff’s department took over management of the beach patrol with a startup grant from the Moody Foundation and annual funding of hotel occupancy tax funneled through the Park Board of Trustees (thank you, Babe!), who also took over management of the beach maintenance and parks.
The formation of the United States Lifesaving Association as a national organization and the modernization and expansion of the beach patrol all happened in 1980 at a conference at Texas A&M University at Galveston orchestrated largely by McCloy. Through the USLA, many lifeguard agencies helped Galveston to modernize the lifeguard service.
Vic Maceo was the director of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol from 1983–2007. During his tenure, a formal lifeguard academy was implemented, which eventually included nearly 100 hours of rigorous training. We implemented USLA’s national standards, formed a supervisory hierarchy, started our Surf Condition Flag System and became the first beach agency to use staggered shifts to increase coverage for the same money.
In 2007, Maceo retired, passing the torch to yours truly. Shortly after that, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol fell solely under the management of the Park Board of Trustees.
Today, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol is an elite certified “Advanced Agency” by the USLA. We protect nearly 7 million beach visitors annually. We are the designated lifeguard service for the city of Galveston and certified as a first responder agency through the Department of Health. A staff of over 130 includes lifeguards, senior guards, supervisors, peace officers and dispatchers. The beach patrol also has a Junior Lifeguard program with nearly 120 kids participating annually and around 15 community-based programs under its umbrella.
Each year we average 110,000 preventive actions and 200 rescues. Last year alone we provided safety talks for over 23,000 school kids, responded to approximately 1,700 medical calls and made about the same number of enforcement actions.
Because we stand on the shoulders of so many dedicated predecessors, have such a great staff and are supported by the park board, the city and the Galveston community, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol is now widely recognized as one the most professional and proactive lifeguard agencies in the United States.