2009-08-07 / Top Stories

City Suspends Headphone-Wearing Lifeguard

By Howard Schwach

The Post photograph that led to the suspension of a Rockaway lifeguard this week. The Post photograph that led to the suspension of a Rockaway lifeguard this week. The city's Department of Parks and Recreation has suspended a veteran lifeguard who was caught by a New York Post photographer wearing headphones and listening to music on his chair at Beach 108 Street in Rockaway Park.

While the city agency has declined to identify the lifeguard, a spokesperson said that he had been suspended and "brought up on formal disciplinary charges" that could lead to his termination.

In its Monday, August 3 edition, The Post published a front-page photo of the lifeguard on duty and listening to music through sound-deadening headphones. The photo was snapped by the Post photographer at about 10:08 a.m. on Sunday, just after the lifeguards came on duty.

Parks officials said that wearing headphones on the job is a "clear violation of Parks Department rules."

One beachgoer told Post reporters, "This is so wrong. How are they supposed to save lives if they can't hear anything? He is supposed to be paying attention to his surroundings."

Others, however, were not so sure. One Beach 107 Street resident called The Wave to argue that Sunday was a chilly and stormy day, and that nobody was on the beach at 10 a.m. in the morning.

"With nobody in the water, nobody on the beach and not much of a prospect of anybody showing up for the beach, he may have decided to listen to some music to kill the time," the resident said. "Perhaps he would have taken the earphone off as soon as a swimmer appeared on his beach."

The local added that there were at least 40 lifeguards getting a lecture in front of the shack on Beach 107 Street at the time.

"Nobody was in danger, and this poor guy is getting crucified," the local said. "That hardly seems fair."

Another man, who came to a Wave editor at the Night Out Against Crime on Tuesday night, said that the mayor and the Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe were making the lifeguard a scapegoat.

The man, who says that he knows the lifeguard well, but who declined to identify either himself of the lifeguard, said, "That kid has made dozens of good rescues over the past few years. He is a diligent lifeguard, but there were no people on the beach that day, so he was listening to music. The mayor says he has to go, so the department suspends him, and will probably fire him just to prove a point. Everybody who knows him knows what a good worker he is."

A former lifeguard who is now a firefighter called on Wednesday morning to say that Bloomberg, by saying that the lifeguard should be fired, did what President Obama did when he called the police department who was involved with the arrest of a Harvard professor "stupid."

"[Bloomberg] did not have any of the facts, but he shot his mouth off and now this kid might be ruined for life for listening to some music on a really stormy day when he is forced to sit on the chair no matter whether anybody shows up or not," he said.

Emails to the Department of Parks requesting information on the lifeguard's disciplinary hearing were not returned.

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