2011-06-03 / Top Stories

East End Lifeguard Issue Addressed By Parks Dept.

By Miriam Rosenberg

Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh spoke to residents last week about the lifeguard situation on the east end. Also pictured is Rockaway Parks Administrator Jill Weber and Rockaway Parks manager Roy Tellason. Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh spoke to residents last week about the lifeguard situation on the east end. Also pictured is Rockaway Parks Administrator Jill Weber and Rockaway Parks manager Roy Tellason. After years of residents’ complaints that the east end of the peninsula is shortchanged on lifeguards each summer, the first deputy commissioner for Parks and Recreation addressed the issue at a meeting held in P.S. 43 this week.

At the invitation of Councilman James Sanders Jr., Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh explained the reasoning for the distribution of lifeguards on the east end.

Addressing the closure of Beach 18 to 27 Streets, Kavanagh said he has spoken with lifeguards who have worked in Rockaway for decades, and they are opposed to opening that area for swimming – a position he supports, “because you have the mouth of Reynolds Channel there and it’s the most difficult waters in the Rockaways and poses a safety threat to the public and to the lifeguards themselves. It is not a place that we think it’s safe to offer swimming.”

S.C. Samoy, the president of the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association, took issue with the logic behind the policy.

“How old is the study?” asked Samoy. “If you don’t know how to swim, you don’t know how to swim. If you’re reckless, you’re reckless. I would argue that between [Beach] 18 and 27 is just as swimable as [between Beach] 9 and 18 and 27 and all the way down to the west end. So I would ask you to look into the arguments to not having lifeguards there.”

As an alternative, Parks would like to “expand the chairs from 29 and 30 [Streets] in both directions so that we have a larger beach available for swimming. … From our perspective it’s safer.”

From Beach 9 to 17 Streets, where a new park is currently under construction, Kavanagh is unsure how many lifeguards would be needed this year.

“Many of the people who use that beach, from my perspective, were people who drove here and parked in the lot [where construction is taking place],” he said. … “I don’t know how many people walk. I’m just wondering what kind of usage we’re going to have in that section [this year].”

The beaches from Beach 30 to Beach 59 Streets, Kavanagh said, have been closed since before he was at Parks.

“Last year, because the boardwalk was under construction at [Beach] 59 Street, we moved the open beach to Beach 60 Street. If our numbers are strong enough we hope to open both [and] expand service in that community.”

Parks is also looking to open the beach between Beach 32 and 28 Streets. “Rockaway Beach is the single biggest operation in the summer [for Parks],” said Kavanagh. “It’s our biggest investment.”

Lifeguards working for the city in the summer come in “ebbs and flows,” said Kavanagh. “It builds up slowly, peaks on July 4 and starting in mid-August many of the lifeguards start returning to college and our numbers start to get lower.”

He added, “Between Memorial Day and the end of June most places only operate [for swimming] on weekends. Not only Far Rockaway, but the west end as well there is primarily weekend swimming.”

Toward the end of June, beaches start opening on weekdays as lifeguards who attend high school become available.

Last year Parks had 1,300 lifeguards. So far, the numbers for returning lifeguards are higher than at this time last year.

“We’re hopeful that come next weekend and a few weeks after, that we’re actually going to have more lifeguards available for duty than we did at this time last year,” said Kavanagh.

Yet deployment on all the city’s beaches could still be a problem. The state has different criteria for pool lifeguards and ocean beach lifeguards.

“It does limit, to some extent, the pool of candidates who are available for places like Rockaway and Coney Island and the other beaches,” Kavanagh explained.

A main criteria for deploying lifeguards is usage. While there are generic surveys asking about conditions at area beaches, there is no specific survey question or survey to determine the demand for usage at specific beaches.

“We need to get a better sense of what usage is, section to section,” said Kavanagh. “As Rockaway continues to grow …we need data …informed data.”

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