Clearwater Beach lifeguards are essential

I would like to comment about proposed cutbacks or elimination of lifeguard service at Clearwater Beach.

Difficult public service cutbacks are being faced and made by city and county leaders in order to continue providing necessary basic services due to Amendment 1 and other recent tax cuts. I can appreciate the unprecedented challenges for our civic leaders in figuring where to cut services while still providing safe recreational experiences for our local residents and visitors.

As the former supervisor of Sand Key Park from 1989 to 2002, I had the privilege of working closely with city of Clearwater chief lifeguard Joe Lain and his staff of lifeguards. At that time in our park's history, Pinellas County contracted with the city of Clearwater to provide lifeguard coverage for Sand Key Park's beach. Over the years, we had numerous saves made by the lifeguards, especially when weather systems were moving in from the gulf and rip currents would suddenly appear.

Joe's lifeguards are also trained to clear the water when conditions are warranted, such as during approaching thunderstorms or when the occasional shark comes into the swim area to feed on schooling fish. They provide first aid to swimmers as well as cool down patrons suffering from heat exhaustion.

All of Joe's lifeguards have to carry the certification of a "First Responder," which means that they are capable of taking charge of life-threatening injuries and cardiac arrest until paramedics arrive on the scene. I am happy to say that we never lost a swimmer to a drowning thanks to Joe and his well-trained staff of lifeguards during my years at Sand Key Park.

I have experience myself as a lifeguard, having earned my merit badge as a Boy Scout in lifesaving, and used that experience several summers at a Boy Scout camp. I have made a number of saves, and well remember the strength of someone who is drowning and fighting for their life. It is very likely that there will be a double drowning if a save is attempted from the water by an untrained swimmer. I know of many instances where a well-meaning bystander or family member also drowned while attempting to help a swimmer in distress on an unguarded beach.

Our family has lived here since 1957 and we have always been regular users of Clearwater Beach. I, too, was saved from drowning by a lifeguard at Clearwater Beach while a teenager. I was hit by a stray surfboard and was knocked unconscious, experiencing a deep gash to my head. One moment, I remember bodysurfing in the water, the next moment I remember waking up on the beach as a lifeguard was treating my bleeding head wound. If not for that vigilant lifeguard's presence at his tower, I very well could have been a drowning statistic. A drowning occurs very quickly, often unnoticed by those who are not trained to recognize signs of distress.

I ask that our city and county leaders look at lifeguard services on our municipal beaches as an essential service. Please don't buy into the idea that a "Swim At Your Own Risk" sign will protect a government from lawsuits. We're talking about precious lives here.

Let's keep Clearwater Beach famous not only for our beautiful beaches, but also for the level of safety provided by our professional lifeguard staff.

Fred Bruder, Seminole

Re: Fire chief "comp time" system needs review editorial, May 13

No one will work
for free for long

I knew that when the paper spent as much time as it did on this issue, it was only a matter of time until you would opine on the matter.

The city of Clearwater made a management decision to cover the city fire department 24/7 with senior management after the Dolphin Cove fire. It was a good decision. There are only so many senior management positions available to cover this responsibility. For whatever reason the city has chosen not to include lower-level officers, probably because the lower officers are union represented and we all know about that situation in Clearwater.

The department can't schedule the chiefs with extra hours forever even if they are on salary. You wouldn't work extra shifts forever and neither would I, and I was a salaried government worker for many years.

The only other option would be to hire more chiefs, but you couldn't cover 3,475 hours, nearly two more positions, for the amount of money that was paid to the nine chiefs plus the fringe benefits.

In the real world that you like to refer to, management wouldn't work the extra hours either forever without compensation. With the tax cuts everybody feels we have to have, all of our units of government will be required to double up the work of our civil servants. Nobody should have to double up for free forever.

Paul C. Blatt, Dunedin

Re: Fire chief "comp time" system needs review editorial, May 13

Hold council
accountable

One only has to follow this story and connect the dots back to when Jamie Geer became Clearwater fire chief to begin to see an emerging theme that has resulted in the current demoralized state of our firefighters.

We have seen top officials within the department leave for various unidentified reasons. We have seen Chief Geer bring in his cronies to fill these slots. We have seen over-the-top punishments of firefighters and paramedics dealt out, only to have the city lose over and over on appeal and arbitration.

The fire administration and city have taken a heavy-handed and adversarial role toward the firefighters union, unable to bring contract negotiations to a fair and amicable close over and over again, all during Geer's tenure. Our once proud firefighters are so disenchanted with this administration that a disproportionate number are leaving for other departments. The once-long waiting list of applicants has dwindled dramatically — they don't want to come to Clearwater anymore.

So, citizens, it is now time to ask ourselves and our city leaders "why?" And at every turn it seems that City Manager Bill Horne is complicit, so we need to start holding the City Council accountable for its lack of involvement and oversight. Mr. Mayor, what say you?

David White, Clearwater

Turn problem
into opportunity

In the May 14 St. Petersburg Times there was an article describing the plans of Tarpon Springs to add a water plant near the power plant in south Pasco County. Tarpon Springs has drilled or will be drilling wells for this brackish water source.

On the same day, I attended a Florida Public Service Commission meeting for a request by Holiday Utilities to dramatically raise its water rates because of salt intrusion into its existing wells. The salt intrusion causes the water to register a sodium level of 190 parts per million compared with the recommended 160 parts — not an extreme violation but nevertheless something prompting the state Department of Environmental Protection to order the company to purchase water from somewhere else and shut down its four wells. Now get this: These wells are only about 400 yards from Tarpon's planned water plant. Does anyone not see this as an opportunity?

Gary Washer, Tarpon Springs

Clearwater Beach lifeguards are essential 05/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2008 2:14pm]

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