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Junior lifeguard camp puts trained eyes on beaches

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Posted: Friday, July 13, 2018 11:45 am

ATLANTIC BEACH — With multiple water rescues reported since May in this ocean side community, the Atlantic Beach Fire Department knows the importance of having trained lifeguards ready to aid swimmers in distress.

That’s why the fire department, six years ago, started a junior lifeguard camp to train youth, ages 9 to 17, in important water safety and rescue skills.

“We hope this camp raises up a new generation of lifeguards, and it’s already working,” Lt. J. Scott Bell said Wednesday prior to teaching 40 campers how to rescue swimmers with the use of a special board designed to protect victims’ spinal cords.

Lt. Bell said the popular, week-long camp covers many of the same skills used by lifeguards, including recognizing and escaping rip currents, victim recognition, victim rescue with a flotation device and Jet Ski and other safety tips related to ocean hazards and heat.

“We want these kids to learn ocean safety skills and have more confidence when they are in the ocean,” Lt. Bell said.

Atlantic Beach lifeguard Meghan Jones, 19, a former junior lifeguard who now helps with the camp, said the program inspired her to enter the profession.

“It definitely sparked my interest in the job and helped prepare me for what I do now,” she said. “Even if they (campers) don’t want to be a lifeguard, the more sets of trained eyes we have on the beaches, the better in the event of an emergency.”

Many of the campers, like Kenley Riley, 13, of Pine Knoll Shores, expressed an interest in becoming a lifeguard.

“I love the ocean and probably will become a lifeguard for a summer job,” she said. “I also think it’s really important because it makes the ocean safer for everyone if people know what to do.”

Ms. Jones said among the most important skills ocean swimmers should know is how to recognize rip currents and how to swim out of them. The majority of rescues that have occurred in Atlantic Beach this year have involved swimmers getting caught in rip currents, according to Ms. Jones.

Rip currents are currents of water that run perpendicular to the shore and are often strong enough to pull even the best swimmers out to sea.

Authorities recommend swimmers caught in rip currents swim parallel to the shore to get out of them. If that’s not possible, they recommend floating or treading water, while facing shore and shouting and waving for help.

Ms. Jones said one way to recognize rip currents is to look for a foam trail that goes backwards away from the shoreline.

“Look for changes in the flow of the water, and usually the waves aren’t breaking in a rip,” she said. “You can also look for darker water, which is the sand getting churned up.”

Ms. Jones said many times swimmers who get caught in a rip current don’t realize it until they try to swim back into shore and can’t make any progress.

“That’s when they start swimming harder and wear themselves out,” she said. “The best thing to do is to swim parallel to the shore until you get out of it, then swim back into shore.”

Lt. Bell said the fire department would offer one more camp Monday through Friday, July 23-27, for ages 13 to 17. The camp, as of Wednesday, was nearly full. Those interested in attending can contact Atlantic Beach town hall at 252-726-2121.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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