The past week was a tough one. Not just for the families and friends of the people who died in the ocean, but for the first responders who worked the events. It’s hard enough for us as residents to hear about tourists and locals who drown in our beach waters, but when it involves children it adds a whole new dimension.
Children drowning on the beach isn’t a very common occurrence, either here locally or along our nation’s beaches. We, in the drowning prevention community, think more of backyard pools, ditches or rivers when we hear about drowning deaths of people 14 and younger. Internationally, the vast majority of drowning deaths occur among toddlers or children ages 4-5. A momentary lapse in supervision for the young or groups of young children playing in packs around water is the common theme.
On the beachfront, our main group that drowns are boys and young men, typically 15-30. So, when we have people outside of that group it hits hard, particularly if it involves children.
Our staff went through a lot this past week. And I must hand it to them, they performed admirably under very tough circumstances. After the event itself they spent long days searching along the shoreline, or on a personal water craft. Particularly tough was the water craft as they spent hours in cold, windy, rough conditions repeatedly combing the south jetty and the groins along the seawall. And they weren’t the only ones as the Galveston Police Department, Jamaica Beach Fire Rescue, U.S. Coast Guard, Galveston Fire Department, and Equusearch volunteers spend hours in boats, helicopters, four-wheelers and four-wheel drive vehicles checking every inch of the beachfront, jetties and areas around the San Luis Pass. And we still haven’t located the missing 16-year-old.
Whether or not they acknowledge it, this takes a huge emotional toll on our community, including emergency response crews. But knowing you’re not the only group looking, or the only group that cares and feels bad, means a lot. There’s definitely a great team here in this county from the emergency operation centers, dispatchers, first responders and groups that provide emotional support.
The Jesse Tree and our Survivor Support Team are a constant help. They were stretched to the limit with these events. And the County Critical Incident Management Team is phenomenal. I was contacted in the middle of the flurry asking if we’d like them to come and work with our staff, which I took them up on. Last year I went with Beach Patrol and Jesse Tree staff to a certification course for group and individual critical incident stress counseling that they put on, which was excellent. Sunday morning they sent a team to our office to work with our staff. It seemed to really help and was a great way for our newer staff members to realize they’re part of something much larger than Beach Patrol, and that they’re supported by a whole community.