2007-06-08 / Front Page

Chief Lifeguard Wary Of New Hires

By Miriam Rosenberg

New lifeguards hired to patrol our beaches may not be ocean-trained. That is the warning from one of Rockaway's chief lifeguards during an interview with The Wave earlier this week.

Janet Fash, the chief lifeguard for the Rockaway Beach Station that runs from Beach 96 to Beach 103 Streets, is concerned that first-time hired lifeguards do not have the necessary training to handle the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

"I never know what I am going to get, except for the usual who come back and are really experienced," Fash said.

She began to realize the problem a few years ago when lifeguards from other shacks would be sent to her station.

"I wouldn't have enough lifeguards, so they sent me some," said Fash, who works out of Beach 97 Street. "I realized not everyone was ocean-trained when they start the job.

"Last year I asked them [and they promised] to send new lifeguards early in the season, not like last year in July. It's a precarious situation. It creates stress for myself and [it's unsafe] for the public."

Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh of the Department of Parks and Recreation responded to Fash's comments.

"They are ocean-ready. They meet all the qualifications to be lifeguards at an ocean beach," Kavanagh told The Wave on Tuesday. "That includes a swimming test before being assigned. They are strong swimmers. They have gone through all the training."

Fash is also concerned that new lifeguards have not yet been hired.

"It's June and they're not telling me anything. It's a mystery," she said.

Kavanagh said the new lifeguards are still in training.

"I expect them to be assignment-ready in mid-June," the Deputy Commissioner said.

Currently, Fash says she has a strong foundation with the experienced life- guards who return to Beach 97 year after year, but she is understaffed with 16 lifeguards when she usually has 35.

Yet, Kavanagh said Fash doesn't need so many lifeguards for her section of beach.

"State requirements are for 12 lifeguards at any time," explained Kavanagh. "I'm sure she has [more than enough] to allow for breaks [and other things]."

Fash is one of approximately nine chief lifeguards in Rockaway. Above her are the borough coordinator lifeguards, who make the decisions about which beaches are opened and which ones are closed.

The Wave also received a call last Friday, from Dan Mundy, the chair of the Parks Committee for Community Board 14.

Mundy reported that, after surveying the beaches in Rockaway on June 1, he found that only 18 beaches had lifeguards from Beach 73 to Beach 149 Streets.

"Seventy-six blocks did not have lifeguards," said Mundy. "I called 311 and asked how many beaches in Rockaway have lifeguards and they said, all."

While Kavanagh said beaches are open peninsula wide, he added "311 would refer a caller to a phone mail service to select what beach they are interested in. On a daily basis in June, especially on weekdays, we never open all the beaches. Amajority of our lifeguards are students."

Last year Parks had 1,060 lifeguards to cover the city's beaches and pools.

"I'm optimistic we will meet that number and exceed it," concluded Kavanagh. "We should have more beaches open than [previously]."

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