Thursday, April 26, 2018
Business

Clearwater Beach lifeguards ramp up to accommodate increasing visitors

CLEARWATER — Lifeguard supervisor Patrick Brafford scans the packed beach from Tower 3 at Clearwater Beach. About 15 feet offshore, a group of people are swimming with a small child. That makes Brafford nervous. There's no reason to take a child out that deep, Brafford thinks. A middle-age woman running toward children in the water catches his eye. It only takes a couple seconds to tell everything is fine, but still, it's unsettling. Rafts and other inflatables worry him, too. He runs through some quick checks: Does the raft appear to be there for fun or safety? How old is the person? Is he or she struggling at all?

This recent Saturday is a typical day for Brafford at Clearwater Beach, which has seen the number of visitors increase almost 25 percent in the past five years. That's why this year, the city increased lifeguard hours between March 1 and Labor Day by two hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m. During the rest of the year, lifeguard duty still ends at 4:30 p.m.

They've also added one more lifeguard to the daily roster — nine are on duty at all times, most for the full shift.

Clearwater Beach is the only beach in Pinellas County to offer year-round lifeguard service, and Brafford said he is always hiring. Right now, his team consists of about 36 lifeguards, including seven full-time, year-round employees.

Brafford, who has been in charge of the program since April 2011, said the boost in tourism has been noticeable and the increased hours and staffing were "definitely needed."

"We're always looking to make things more efficient," he said. "At this point in time in the summer, there's a lot of daylight and a lot of people left (after 4:30 p.m.)."

The influx of visitors has meant Brafford's team spends more time educating newcomers about ordinances, such as the bans on alcohol, pier jumping and surfing, he said.

In the past, the beach was busy mainly on the weekends, said Brent Armstrong, 59, who was a lifeguard from 1974 to 1979 and returned in 2012. Now, the beach is jam-packed year-round during the week, he said.

It's unclear whether the increase in visitors has resulted in increased incidents. According to data Clearwater officials submit to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, total water rescue numbers have fluctuated. The data also shows that since 1991, there have been nine drowning deaths when lifeguards were not on duty and zero when they were on duty. Brafford said the low numbers could be partially due to imperfect reporting in the past. However, he said it might also be because of the year-round lifeguard service.

"Death by drowning is considerably reduced when someone swims on a guarded beach and near a lifeguard during guarded hours," Brafford said.

Geri Lopez, Clearwater's director of economic development and housing, said the tourism boom has caused officials to talk about a bigger commitment in upkeep to the beach. The city already has installed new towers in 2011 and 2012, which are larger and taller, giving lifeguards better visibility. It also bought new beach vehicles.

Armstrong said he's glad to have the extra hours of coverage, but no matter the number of tourists or locals, the job remains the same: "Just make sure people have a safe experience at the beach."

Contact Taylor Goldenstein at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155. Follow @taygoldenstein.

 
Comments
Yelp search results reflected racist stereotype that Asian American restaurants serve cat and dog

Yelp search results reflected racist stereotype that Asian American restaurants serve cat and dog

A strange thing happened when typing "dog menu" into the restaurant ratings website and app Yelp. It automatically generated suggested searches. There were dog massage, hot dogs, pet groomers. Also: "dog meat." But it got more disturbing. Take Yelp...
Updated: 12 hours ago
As more emotional support animals fly on U.S. airlines, Congress eyes new ways to tighten the leash

As more emotional support animals fly on U.S. airlines, Congress eyes new ways to tighten the leash

WASHINGTON — With hundreds of thousands of emotional support animals taking to the skies on U.S. airlines, Congress may start pulling a tighter leash.Two new legislative options emerged this week to address a hairy issue for American Airlines, Southw...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Duke Energy announces new Florida leadership

Duke Energy announces new Florida leadership

ST. PETERSBURG — The head of Duke Energy Florida is leaving his post to take a new role with the utility’s parent company June 1, the company announced on Wednesday.Harry Sideris, 47, was appointed this week to serve as vice president and chief distr...
Updated: 12 hours ago

Comcast challenges Murdoch with rival bid for U.K.-based Sky

LONDON — U.S. media giant Comcast on Wednesday offered $30.7 billion for Sky PLC, topping a bid from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and setting up a bidding war for Britain’s biggest satellite TV company.Comcast said it would pay approximately $17...
Published: 04/25/18
Sprouts Farmers Market to open new store in Pasco County

Sprouts Farmers Market to open new store in Pasco County

TRINITY — Pasco County will be getting its first Sprouts Farmers Market, the organic grocery chain announced Wednesday. The new store will open at the Village at Mitchell Ranch on State Road 54 and Little Road. Officials with the speciality st...
Published: 04/25/18
Circle K launching own gas at eight Hillsborough locations

Circle K launching own gas at eight Hillsborough locations

TAMPA — Circle K is converting the gas station portion of eight of its Hillsborough locations to Circle K fuel. Previously, the fuel was provided by other brands, such as Shell. The new Circle K branding also brings with it the Canadian-owned conveni...
Published: 04/25/18
Florida leads other hurricane-prone states in quality of its building codes

Florida leads other hurricane-prone states in quality of its building codes

Florida has the strongest residential building codes among 18 coastal states, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. Florida’s rating is 95, almost three times higher than lowest-ranked Texas. Other states wit...
Published: 04/25/18
Study: Tampa Bay homes in once ‘redlined’ neighborhoods worth half those in other areas

Study: Tampa Bay homes in once ‘redlined’ neighborhoods worth half those in other areas

Times staffRedlining’ — banks’ refusal to make mortgage loans in certain areas — still has a huge effect on housing values even though the practice was banned 50 years ago. According to Zillow, a Tampa Bay house in a once-redlined area is worth less ...
Published: 04/25/18
Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opens first Tampa restaurant, Nebraska Mini-Mart grab-and-go coming soon

Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opens first Tampa restaurant, Nebraska Mini-Mart grab-and-go coming soon

NOW OPEN: TEX-MEX CHAIN CHUY’SThe Austin, Texas-based Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opened its first Tampa restaurant on Tuesday, giving away free Chuy’s for two for a year to the first 50 customers. I know, we missed it, it’s a bummer, but we can still visit...
Published: 04/25/18
Clearwater looks to move out of City Hall to speed up Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment

Clearwater looks to move out of City Hall to speed up Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment

CLEARWATER — Elected officials have talked about relocating City Hall from the downtown bluff for a good 30 years. Now there’s a jolt of urgency to actually do it.Voters backed a referendum in November that essentially greenlighted the $55 million re...
Published: 04/25/18