EDITORIAL: Lifeguard situation troubling
It was just a matter of time before someone drowned at a beach that would normally have been supervised by lifeguards but didn’t have one on duty because of circumstances related to the retrenchment of 24 of them earlier this year.
Despite an assurance from the National Conservation Commission (NCC) last May 15 that four lifeguards would be deployed at each of the 17 beaches it would continue supervising, including Crane Beach, St Philip, no rescue personnel were on duty there last week Thursday when 18-year-old Shaquille Denny drowned.
No one knows whether the youth would have been saved from an untimely, horrific demise had a lifeguard been on duty, but the fact none was there at that time was unsatisfactory.
The explanation by NCC general manager Keith Neblett that three guards were assigned to the Crane but one was on holiday, another on sick leave, and a third rostered off-duty, only compounds this unfortunate situation.
Clearly, the complement of lifeguards is inadequate even for NCC’s reduced coverage.
We voiced our concern about this on May 17 when the NCC stated that the 66 lifeguards left after the April 30 retrenchments, along with the deployment of four senior people, would be enough to do the job.
We said then: “Arithmetically, the proposal can work. But in reality, it does not add up when one factors in off days, sick days, vacation and compulsory training. That is not good enough, given the accepted standards required for lifeguards to successfully carry out their duties.”
Tragically, our concerns have been shown to be merited.
This young man’s death should therefore serve as a wake-up call to policymakers. They should re-examine the retrenchment of those lifeguards, given their essential role in our tourism sector.
Had Denny been a tourist, the foreign media would have raked Barbados’ name through the mud for not having any lifeguards at a beach known for its difficult currents. The fallout from such negative publicity would far outweigh any benefit the Government might have felt it achieved through the retrenchment of lifeguards.
Policymakers should also consider moving the lifeguards from the NCC, an environmental agency, to one of the emergency services.
Lifeguards are trained rescuers who must be certified before they can be employed as such. Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and general first aid are standard requirements for them. Also, many are now both trained and certified to use advanced lifesaving tools such as the external defibrillator and portable oxygen.
Such individuals are more suitably attached to a specialised rescue service. They are like car or home insurance policies – though you quietly pray that nothing occurs that would require them, you want to have them should the worst occur.
The loss of any life as a result of an accident is regrettable. But when that life is that of a youth and occurred as a consequence of a controversial policy decision, then the officials should revisit their decision.