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State lifeguard shortage continues

Lolita Harper

State lifeguards are shifting more safety duties to beach patrons,

imploring them to please beware of the fact that public safety

resources are extremely limited for the third consecutive year

because of dire financial straits.

Mike Tope, the Orange Coast district superintendent for the

California State Parks, said he is feeling the crunch all along his

stretch of the beach, from Bolsa Chica to San Onofre. He said it is

essential for parents, as well as other patrons of the coastal

playground, to understand that there are fewer eyes looking out for

them.

“We are trying to do the prevention thing and lots of public

education to remind people that at this time of year our services are

pretty scarce,” Tope said.

In 2002, lifeguards braced themselves for what they called the

most challenging summer in the past 50 years, said Ken Kramer,

president of the California State Lifeguard Assn. Since then,

tightened belts have become the rule rather than the exception, and

lifeguard officials have simply had to make due.

State Parks and Recreation officials have cut back on hiring

“seasonal lifeguards,” who are part-time employees called in for the

hottest and busiest times of the year, said Roy Stearns, a spokesman

for California State Parks. Because of the reductions, aquatics

safety officials are calling on the public to be aware of the

decrease in protection.

At Crystal Cove there are only two full-time lifeguards, whose

services are relegated to patrols, Tope said. The patrol schedule

will be supplemented by part-time work shifts but no towers will be

manned until May 1, he said.

May usually marks the beginning of the “busy season” at state

beaches, but with Southern California’s mild climate, crowded beaches

are a year-round concern, Tope said, citing the recent heat wave.

“Four years ago we would have towers staffed, but this year for

Spring Break and weekends in April, we will have no one,” Tope said.

Officials said guards will be forced to provide the best

protection they can given limited financial resources. Last year,

state park lifeguards rescued a record 10,539 people, approximately

10% of all those nationwide, according to the United States

Lifesaving Assn. statistics. The majority of those rescues were done

by seasonal lifeguards, said Alex K. Peabody, the aquatic specialist

for the state parks department.

Park officials encourage the public to pay close attention to

safety signs as they enter the park or access beaches, to swim

directly in front of staffed lifeguard towers, where they are

available, and to contact their local state park office to learn the

locations of the most safe swimming areas.

“Folks really need to heed all safety warnings and gauge their

water-safety skills depending on the conditions,” Tope said.

* LOLITA HARPER is the Forum editor. She also writes columns

Wednesdays and Fridays. She may be reached at (949) 574-4275 or by

e-mail at lolita.harper@latimes.com.


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