CARLSBAD — In short, the city’s lifeguard pilot program covering North Beach was a success, according to officials.
Carlsbad Fire Division Chief Mike Calderwood and Assistant City Manager Jason Haber reported to the City Council on Dec. 12 the program saw a dramatic decline in nonfatal drowning’s from seven in 2016 to zero this year.
The program was approved April 11 and ran from just before Memorial Day until Sept. 4 after the city received numerous concerns from residents, and others, about the lack of coverage on the stretch of beach from Oak Avenue to the Oceanside border.
“We had increased calls and concerns about visitor usage, city resources and quality of life concerns,” Haber said. “The police department increased patrols and there were lifeguards on the beach to answer questions about usage.”
The city partnered with the Encinitas and Oceanside fire departments for swim tests and to respond to calls about personal watercraft. Additionally, the Army and Navy Academy provided a lifeguard tower and equipment storage, while the Carlsbad by the Sea retirement community provided a break area for lifeguards to assist with the city meeting OSHA standards.
Although one tower was provided, the city constructed sand towers along the beach to give lifeguards a vantage point.
Calderwood said a campaign was conducted by fire and police officials to educate beachgoers about beach danger, especially tourists with little or no knowledge of ocean swimming. He said it paid dividends as comment cards returned to the city reported safer conditions.
Statistically, Calderwood said the lifeguards, which operate under the Carlsbad Fire Department, made 335 rescues, provided 250 people with medical aid and took 21,952 preventative actions. The program is one reason why no fatalities were reported during the three-month timeframe.
“We had to build sand towers because there was no time for other options,” Calderwood said. “The preventative measures made a difference … and common radio communications made a difference and made things run smoother.”
Comparing 2016 and 2017, the city report shows a steep decline in actions. In July 2016, 335 rescues occurred, no preventative actions were taken and seven nonfatal drownings took place.
This year, however, 243 rescues were conducted, a 28 percent decrease, with 15,000 preventative actions taken and no drownings reported.
As a bonus, the cost of the program came in under budget by $103,805. It was estimated to cost $300,000 when the program was approved in the spring by the City Council.
Calderwood noted the foresight of city staff hiring 30 part-time, or seasonal, lifeguards contributed to lower costs. It resulted in a savings of about $53,000.
Admittedly, Calderwood said there were some oversights, but due to the rapid pace the city was working at to institute the program, equipment, training and logistics, a more thorough budget review will be conducted.
While a seasonal lifeguard did suffer a severe neck injury, the city has additional insurance and the claim falls under worker’s compensation.
Haber said city staff will return to the council in January with a more detailed plan and a “variety” of options, and a possible action item on the agenda for 2018.