Rockaway lifeguards sound alarm on deadly potential of city's beach closure plan

Rockaway lifeguards sound alarm on deadly potential of city’s beach closure plan

When hordes of sweaty New Yorkers make their annual pilgrimage to Rockaway Beach this Memorial Day, they might discover extra crimson flags and fewer lifeguards.

Alongside some of probably the most heavily-used and transit-accessible stretches of shoreline, the tall plywood chairs might be changed by indicators warning beachgoers to remain out of the water. Between Beach 86th Avenue and Beach 116th Avenue, the Parks Division introduced this week, swimming received’t be allowed in any respect via at the least July fifteenth — confirming what many had feared for weeks.

The ocean ban is being touted as a compromise. Metropolis officers had initially mentioned blocking entry utterly to the 30-blocks of shoreline, the place the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers is at present constructing out stone jetties as half of a long-awaited, $336 million resiliency mission.

However after backlash from native officers and group members – together with boardwalk distributors determined for early summer time foot site visitors – town Parks Division agreed to permit “sand and recreation access” alongside most of the 1.5 mile space.

Past the headache of dodging dump vans mid-tan, that association might also have grave penalties: those that inevitably enter the ocean can have nobody to rescue them in the event that they get into bother. Native lifeguards instructed Gothamist that leaving such a major size of shore unsupervised is a recipe for tragedy.

“When they open up the sand in a busy area, people are going to try to take their swim,” mentioned Janet Fash, a chief lifeguard on Rockaway Beach. “If a lifeguard is observing, at least they can effect a rescue if something goes wrong. Right now there’s no plan for that.”

Since 2019, eight individuals have drowned on metropolis seashores between Memorial Day and Labor Day, in accordance with information offered by the Well being Division. 5 of these fatalities have occured on Rockaway seashores both after guarded hours or after they have been closed to swimming.

Most not too long ago, an 18-year-old from Maspeth drowned final summer time after town banned swimming between Beach 93rd and Beach 102nd Avenue resulting from beach erosion.

“The ocean lifeguards were devastated,” Fash mentioned. “We never want to see that again.”

On the time, the Parks Division, which employs the lifeguards, mentioned the beach wasn’t vast sufficient to supply enough visibility for a lifeguard submit. However Fash notes that loads of different municipalities enable lifeguards to patrol the oceanfront on small beach autos.

One other Rockaway lifeguard recalled the helpless feeling of watching FDNY groups trying to find the drowned teenager final summer time. He accused the Parks Division of prioritizing its personal legal responsibility issues over the security of swimmers.

“If Parks decides to close the area, they relieve themselves of any responsibility,” mentioned the lifeguard, who requested for anonymity to keep away from skilled repercussions as he wasn’t approved to talk on the report. “Their mentality isn’t about safety, it’s about protecting their own skin and getting through the summer without incident.”

A spokesperson for the Parks Division, Dan Kastanis, highlighted the “impeccable record” of town’s lifeguard corps, noting that there had been no drownings throughout lifeguard open hours in virtually a decade.

He mentioned that Parks Enforcement Patrol officers can be policing areas the place lifeguards have been absent – and would have the facility to subject tickets to swimmers who refuse to depart the water. However prior to now, such efforts have had restricted success in dissuading swimmers from coming into unguarded waters.

Including to the problems, the Parks Division is as soon as once more battling a nationwide scarcity of lifeguards. The shortage of employees final summer time prompted protests amongst lifeguards on Rockaway, in addition to canceled swim classes and water aerobics courses citywide.

Kastanis mentioned the company was within the course of of coaching lifeguards and would have a closing depend round July 4th.

In accordance with Fash, the foremost closures this 12 months, together with the continuing drawback of erosion and lifeguard shortages, ought to encourage a brand new method from town – one which entails higher flexibility of deployments.

“It’s going to be a fluid event, and Parks is not good at that. They’re good at saying this is going to be closed. But people are going to swim there, and that’s a concern,” she mentioned. “New York City has to get better at giving the lifeguards the tools they need to manage an ocean beach.”

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