This article originally appeared in the Bellaire Community Group Newsletter.
Recently the Florida State Legislature passed a bill that gives the Volusia County Sheriff the responsibilities as the law enforcement authority on our beach. Prior to this law’s passing, the Beach Patrol provided law enforcement on the beach. Leading up to the legislative action there were some contentious exchanges between the Beach Patrol and the Sheriff’s department. Clearly, the Beach Patrol wanted to hang on to the law enforcement component and attempted to make their case in the news and social media. These attempts fell on deaf ears, and the bill was passed and signed by Governor DeSantis.
I grew up here, and worked on the beach in the 1960s when the number of tourists on our beach dwarfed the numbers we have today. Back then driving on the beach was free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Literally there were days when there was 100,000 people mixed with cars on our beach, and there was little police presence, because there was little need for them. On the rare occasion that law enforcement was needed it was handled by the local police departments. The lifeguards sat in red towers and focused ALL their attention on swimmers. It was extremely rare for a drowning to occur. Those red towers stretched the length of our beach no more than a couple hundred yards apart. Vigilance, safety, and friendliness permeated the beach using this model. Somehow through the management of Volusia County, we abandoned that highly effective, friendly, and relatively cost efficient system. Today, red towers with guards are as scarce as hen’s teeth.
I was hopeful that the state-mandated change in authorities and jurisdictions would result in the return of the red towers being staffed with lifeguards; along with return of a minimal presence of law enforcement on what should be a playground. But I am beginning to believe that if there is a way to improve the management of our beach, the bureaucrats in Deland will find a way to sabotage it. Instead of letting Sheriff Chitwood (who has a remarkable record of management) take over the beach safety operations, the wizards in Deland decided to cut the baby in half. The lines between the Sheriff’s law enforcement authority and the Beach Patrol’s authority are as clear as mud.
On top of that, despite no longer having any law enforcement responsibilities, lifeguards remain in red trucks, rather than sit in a red tower. We have signs posted at every beach approach instructing visitors to swim in front of a lifeguard. Volusia County management has those lifeguards drive up and down the beach in those red trucks. Swimming in front of a guard in this model requires our visitors to be excellent swimmers. I am not going to say this model is stupid, but this has to be the most inefficient way to provide safety for swimmers ever conceived.
As most of you know, since tropical storms Ian and Nicole our beach sand has eroded significantly. That erosion along with rising sea levels has left multiple days when the tide is at the turtle poles and in some areas up to the seawalls. There is simply not enough room to drive the Lifeguard tucks. This guards in trucks rather than guards in towers model, leaves the great majority of our beach often without any lifeguard presence at all. How does Volusia County and the Beach Patrol justify the lack of lifeguard protection during these more and more frequent days? ….especially when many of these higher tides come along with large surf. The word dereliction comes to mind. Let’s learn from the past, put lifeguards in red towers not in red trucks.
‘til next time
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