Calling All Surfers and Water Enthusiasts: Free Demonstration of Water Lifesaving Skills This Friday

By JON COEN | Apr 24, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill Bob Selfridge (left) during a training excersise in 2017.

Surf City — It’s one of those hot summer nights, like, really hot, when the temperature barely drops after the sun finally slips at 8:30. It’s just tolerable on LBI, with a west wind or “land breeze” that’s keeping the Island just as stifling as inland.

For those who don’t want to be stuck inside trying to survive in air conditioning, the other option is a nice swim. The Atlantic Ocean is a great way to cool off. And so a family heads up to the beach right around dusk, long after the lifeguards have gone off duty. It looks safe. They jump in. As placid as it looks, an unseen rip current pulls a little boy off the sandbar.

Perhaps there’s an incident on the bay. Dad’s pulling the kids around on an inflatable and there’s a collision with an old channel marker. Maybe an experienced surfer bounces off the sandbar in the middle of winter and separates his shoulder? Or perhaps an elderly woman wading into the surf at sunrise takes a fall.

In every one of these cases on LBI, chances are that there is an experienced waterman – a fisherman, a surfer, a current or ex-lifeguard within a few hundred yards of the incident. Maybe they live nearby. Maybe they’re painting a house in the area.

This is the idea behind SALT (Surfers as Lifesaver Team), which will provide a free public education program that aims to teach surfers and other experienced watermen and waterwomen how to safely and carefully aid drowning people or others in need until trained rescue personnel arrive. The program is headed up by Bob Selfridge, a Barnegat Light resident, EMT, training officer for the Barnegat Light Beach Patrol and captain of Barnegat Light Volunteer Fire Co.

Obviously, the first line of response would be lifeguards. But guards are generally on duty from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and that’s only at the peak of summer. That leaves the ocean beaches unguarded for six daylight hours during the season.

Selfridge understands this and seeks to arm experienced watermen/women with the technical skills to save a life.

There will be a SALT demonstration at 6 p.m. Friday, April 26 at the St. Francis Center pool in Brant Beach. This is a free event.

“In any kind of emergency, citizens are often the first to take action. When someone is drowning in an unguarded location or during an unguarded time, it is often a bystander witness that calls 911 and initiates the emergency response. On LBI, of all calls made to 911 in the post-season, approximately 40 percent are for water rescue,” says Selfridge.

The Island does have volunteer rescue teams in place, but as Selfridge points out, “Often, rescue teams assemble at their respective stations to mobilize personnel and equipment. Even an above-average response time of three or four minutes is too long for a person struggling in the water to wait,” says Selfridge.

In these instances, minutes are the difference between life and death. Sometimes it’s seconds.

This demonstration is a first step in creating an Island-wide network of watermen and women who can respond to a water emergency. It will include instruction on how to coach victims away from hazards, support a victim’s neck, maintain an airway for unconscious victims, bring victims to a safe location or render aid on the water until reached by rescue watercraft.

The core of SALT consists of Selfridge, swimmer/trainer/lifeguard training officer Stephane Rebek and surfer/lifeguard/EMT Shawn McNally. Other free sessions will be offered throughout the summer.

While SALT members are very clear that their program does not provide professional training and cannot be applied toward any certification, this and the other sessions are only to educate skilled watermen/women and get the ball rolling for an official program.

Eventually SALT would like to give watermen/women official training and see them become members of volunteer rescue companies on the Island and covered by their insurance. Ideally, in the future, fire calls would be separate from water rescues and SALT members would only be responding to water danger calls.

“Many surfers have already aided fellow surfers, swimmers or boaters in distress. In fact, surfers are ideally suited to make impromptu rescues, as they are often in or near the water, usually with a surfboard and/or wetsuit, have strong swimming and paddling skills, and know how to assess and manage water conditions and hazards,” shared Selfridge. “Many say they just ‘had’ to help. On LBI, surfers will earn their SALT.”

Questions should be directed to the SALT administrator at The Facebook page (SALT- Long Beach Island) will have updates as the programs unfold.

— Jon Coen

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