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Lifeguard work becomes high-tech

Politically Correct

March 30, 2006|By LESLIE DAIGLE

As the guest of Newport Beach Battalion Chief Eric Bauer, I recently attended the tryouts for seasonal lifeguard positions. More than 100 intrepid contestants plunged into the 51-degree water for a swim around Newport Pier. I knew it was not for the faint of heart when the hardy contestants were told, "When you hit the water, you will probably get a really bad ice-cream headache." No wetsuits were allowed. It was a test of skill and grit.

The city will hire 70 seasonal life guards for the season to supplement our year-round staff of 16, which includes administrative and supervisory staff. They help keep our beaches safe and are ambassadors to the more than 9 million visitors who frequent our beaches every year. Lifeguards recommend restaurants, places to shop and local events. The Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce recognizes the dedication of our public safety personnel and holds annual appreciation days.

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Our community embraces the importance of equipping our young people with ocean safety skills. This summer, more than 1,000 youngsters will participate in the Junior Lifeguard program. Participants will learn to be ocean-safe while building skills in swimming, first-aid and getting along with others. Discipline is part of the program, and junior lifeguards have moved on colleges, universities and service academies. Former junior lifeguards include concert pianist and anesthesiologist Leighton Smith; attorney/sports agent Steve Feldman; FBI agent Chris Templeton; Olympic water polo coaches Bill Barnett and Ted Newland; Corona del Mar High math teacher Jennifer Bloomfield; and Roxy Sportswear rep Laura Thompson.

The backbone of lifeguarding is the year-round staff. New authority under the Fire Department brought increased training and more robust equipment. Training and technology are critical to public safety. As I stood in the lifeguard tower at the Newport Pier, I noticed one of the three Crystaliners, 29-foot, 700-horsepower rescue boats that patrol the breakwater where trouble lives. Its design includes an open transom to haul in struggling or injured swimmers. The Crystaliner rescue boats, the fleet of beach vehicles, communication devices and the supervisors are all part of the mobile backup system for the tower. The integration of communication technologies is enhancing the safety of our beaches and day-to-day operations, and provides information to citizens who may be considering a trip to the coastline.

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