“Emergencies were popping all over the radio on all the channels.”
That’s how Galveston Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis described the weekend of May 1-3 in a guest column he wrote for The Daily News last week. It was the first weekend beaches had been entirely opened since March 29, when they were closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
It was an opening that came as a result of an order by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier in that week, decreeing Texas beaches would reopen two days later and obliterating Galveston’s well-reasoned, phased reopening plan.
It also left the beach patrol scrambling to allocate its manpower as judiciously as possible — especially since it hadn’t yet even begun vetting and training its summer staff, which is considerably larger than its off-season crew.
The word “emergency” can mean many things. In terms of the beach and the dedicated lifeguards who patrol it, an emergency often means a life-or-death scenario.
It means pulling distressed swimmers out of the water and breathing life back into their lungs. It means steering people away from dangerous rocks and currents and rip tides. Finding lost children. Keeping alcohol off beaches where it doesn’t belong. And dealing with the shenanigans of folks over-imbibing on beaches where adult drinking is allowed.
Lifeguards also spend much time answering questions, giving directions and keeping beach access points clear and safe.
And now in the age of COVID-19, they also are tasked with trying to keep people socially distanced and exhibiting common sense, even if it’s just a modicum.
All the while keeping an eye on what — on a sunny summer weekend — could be hundreds of thousands of people in the water and on the sand.
By the end of that first weekend in May, the beach patrol had engaged in 3,800 preventative actions, which means moving people out of dangerous situations, two rescues and 60 enforcement actions and responded to several lost-children calls and medical problems.
In the midst of all that, Davis wrote in his column, two people stopped him on the beach to make remarks that basically questioned what the patrol does. One was a man without a mask who stuck his face into the open window of Davis’ beach patrol vehicle.
“Quickly pulling on my mask until he backed away a bit, I asked if I could help him,” Davis wrote. “He asked me if we ‘just drove around not doing anything or ever did any work.’”
There’s no telling whether that guy and the woman who asked a similar question, with its implied slight, were residents or tourists. Doesn’t matter, since ignorance is ignorance whether it comes from Galveston, Houston, New York City or Paris.
The thing is, even at full staff and full resources, the beach patrol has its hands full. And despite the enduring image of Pamela Anderson slo-mo jogging along the beach in her bouncing red bathing suit, being a lifeguard is not a glamour job.
It’s no secret that on the hate side of the love-hate relationship Galveston residents have with our booming tourism industry is the rampant disregard for our natural beauty and resources that many tourists often bring to the island.
So, to our tourists who are reading this: Welcome to our island. Enjoy the beaches and businesses and beauty. But please, act right, show some respect and work with our first responders and public safety personnel. Your health and safety are of the utmost importance to them.
And to the residents, we must remember that, by all accounts, Galveston is lucky to have such a dedicated team protecting Galveston beaches and the people who enjoy them. They should be lauded and applauded. And, for our safety, heeded. Let’s remember that — and act accordingly.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner