2012-06-29 / Letters

Supports Lifeguards

Dear Editor,

I was greatly disappointed reading your statements about the lifeguards in the articles concerning the death of Christian Benitez that occurred on the beach Memorial Day weekend.

In the first article you mention that an eyewitness said that the lifeguard’s response was “atrocious.” In the very next paragraph you then quote an EMT who says that everyone acted quickly and professionally. Why put two quotes back to back that seemingly contradict each other? In last week’s Wave you quote “eyewitnesses” who said that the lifeguards were atrocious. I guess in two weeks time more people stepped up to say how bad the lifeguards were. I wonder if you have it out for the lifeguards in Rockaway because it seems rather irresponsible to quote one unnamed person, when there were hundreds of people on the beach that day. Also, considering you could not even get the facts of the story correct, it seems like you are taking a cheap shot at the Rockaway Beach Lifeguards by claiming twice that their response was atrocious.

I was sitting next to the lifeguard chair on Beach 120 that day. Christian and his sister were actually sitting on the beach between 121st and 122nd Streets, not on 120th as mentioned several times in your article. They were sitting behind the line of lifeguard chairs, meaning that any lifeguard actually doing his/ her job and watching the water would not be able to see this emergency unless notified by someone else. Christian’s sister, upon noticing her unconscious brother, did not alert lifeguards.

She ran to the boardwalk where she flagged down a police car. I noticed the police walking down the beach and my first thought was that they were trying to ticket people for drinking or smoking and I did not pay much attention.

When the police reached the scene, I saw one of them pick up her radio and immediately a crowd of people began to gather around. This is when the retired firefighter and the nurse began CPR. Again, all of this occurred behind the line of lifeguard chairs, and no lifeguards were yet made aware of the situation. I stood up and tried to get closer, and when I noticed a man doing chest compressions I ran to the lifeguards and alerted them. One lifeguard, a young lady, immediately grabbed her pocket mask and ran to the scene, while the lifeguard on the chair blew an emergency whistle to the next chair asking for oxygen. At this point a few minutes had already passed since the police had first been notified, and nobody knows for sure how much time had passed since Christian first went into cardiac arrest.

The lifeguard arriving on the scene made her pocket mask available to the first responders and tried to clear the crowd that had grown rather quickly. She did not try to do anything else because two very capable people had already begun lifesaving procedures. An oxygen tank arrived from 119th Street within seconds, before any EMTs arrived on the scene.

EMTs finally did arrive with a defibrillator after about ten minutes, at about the same time that a lifeguard arrived with a defibrillator. Take note, however, that the lifeguard’s defibrillator is located in the shack at the back of the beach on 117th Street, and this emergency took place close to 122nd Street, NOT 120 as your articles state several times. Being that the beach was extremely crowded that day, almost all of the lifeguards were by the chairs or the shoreline, where they should be. Also, lifeguards are not equipped with radios, and all of their communication is done with whistles and hand signals. This means that a signal was sent down the beach for a defibrillator, which on a crowded day could take some time, and then a lifeguard had to run to the shack and relay the defibrillator the quarter mile through the hot sand for it to reach the scene of the emergency. Even an Olympic sprinter would not have arrived much earlier. Obviously this is not the ideal situation, and there should be some way to make defibrillators more immediately available in emergency situations, but in no way whatsoever is this the lifeguard’s fault.

To label the lifeguards as “atrocious” not once, but twice, is doing them an extremAe injustice. To try to place blame on anyone for the sad events that oc-curred that day is just plain wrong. The citizens on the beach, the police, the lifeguards and the EMTs all acted extremely professionally and quickly that day, and all of them were surely saddened to find out that Christian did not survive. To lose someone whose life you were trying to save, and then have to read that your response was atrocious is a slap in the face. I believe The Wave of Rockaway owes the lifeguards of Rockaway Beach an apology. Those same lifeguards are often the first people blamed when anything goes wrong, yet they rarely receive any acknowledgement when their daily actions save lives and make the beach in Rockaway a much safer place for everyone.

TIMOTHY KUFFNER

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