Spend any amount of time around Dewey Beach Patrol Captain Todd Fritchman and it’s clear that he’s a person with an endless motor.
Fritchman, 49, wakes up ready to go, doesn’t sit down all day long, goes to bed, and then wakes up and does it again. On the day of the interview, he held roll call for the patrol in the morning and had a business appointment in Bethany, monitored the rookies during their open water rescue certification testing, went to the gym, picked his kids up from sports practices, fed everybody dinner, and then took them for a ride on the family boat.
“And then it’ll be time to hit the bed,” he said, loving the controlled chaos. “It keeps me out of trouble.”
And while he seemed genuinely honored when asked to be a Saltwater Portrait subject, the interview had to be fit around his busy schedule, which didn’t allow for the normal sit down and get comfortable talk. It meant walking the beach while he monitored the rookie lifeguards struggling through a 1.2-mile swim as part of their testing.
Fritchman has worked on a beach in Delaware every year since he was 13 years old, when he was a beach boy setting up chairs and umbrellas.
“That was a little slow for me,” he said laughing.
Which is why at the age of 16, Fritchman tried out to become a Rehoboth Beach lifeguard. He’s spent every summer since working as a lifeguard - 16 years as a lifeguard in Rehoboth Beach, the final six as a senior lieutenant, and the past 18 years as captain of Dewey Beach Patrol.
“I just can't shake it,” he said as he looked down at his cellphone to monitor the time on the swim.
Part of Fritchman's aura of endless energy is his ability to be moving while he's moving. While he answered questions as he walked on the beach, he watched his rookies, consistently checked the clock, monitored the clouds because there were storms in the forecast, asked a group of people to stop smoking, checked on the depth of a hole that looked unsafe, and stopped and chatted with a group of people interested in what the lifeguards were doing.
“I'm always watching everything,” he said, explaining that a life spent protecting people's lives is where his power of observation came from. “Sometimes it can feel like the plague.”
Fritchman, a self-described “redneck dirtball,” grew up on a small potato farm in Smyrna, but a severe case of allergies prevented him from helping with the haying on the farm. As a result, as soon as Fritchman was old enough, his dad began sending him to Rehoboth, where his grandparents lived and his grandfather worked as a land surveyor, to work.
Fritchman said his dad basically told him he was useless on the farm if he couldn’t help with the hay. He says coming down to the beach for the summers was better anyway.
Fritchman’s love for the outdoors came from the days he spent as a child in Duck Creek, the small river that bordered his family's farm to the north. He said he would spend hours in the water with his goggles on looking at what was going on underneath.
Those hours as a child spurred his education when he went to college, where he earned a bachelor of science degree from Salisbury University and then a master's from Delaware State University in aquatic biology.
Immediately following college, Fritchman did what he called “beach and teach.” He taught at Smyrna High School for six years and then Indian River High School for eight. At both schools he was a varsity coach for several teams.
His businesses developed from a wetland preservation class that he taught while at Indian River about the same time new developments throughout the state needed help with stormwater pond maintenance. Developers sought his knowledge of wetland preservation, which translated to stormwater pond maintenance, so he stopped teaching and created Envirotech Environmental Consulting.
Fritchman said the company now has 30 employees and monitors more than 300 subdivisions throughout the state.
Running Envirotech led to the purchasing of another company, Morton Electric Motor, Sales and Service in Lewes. Fritchman said the owner wanted to retire, and his environmental consulting business made up more than 75 percent of that company's business.
There was a brief period in Fritchman’s life when he didn’t have the endless amounts of energy, and when he questioned whether he was going to be able to be captain, run two businesses and raise two kids.
It came in 2009, when his wife, Kelly, died from complications related to cystic fibrosis. For a few months, he examined his life.
There was a lot of stress, he said, and it was tough imagining it was going to be possible to do all he was trying to do.
Fritchman said it was a test of his mental and physical abilities, but with the help of friends and family, he was able to make it through that time.
“Once you fight through it, things turn out OK,” he said. “But you don’t know until you have to go through it.”
Five years later, their two kids, 11-year-old Melanie and 9-year-old Charles, are into sports and seem to have Fritchman's knack for keeping busy. Melanie is a swimmer, and Charles plays flag football and lacrosse and is a Dewey Beach Patrol junior lifeguard.
And now that the kids are getting older, Fritchman doesn't see any reason why he'll need to slow down.
“What better place for the kids to grow up than down here,” he said, followed with a quick, “I hope not,” when asked if he's leaving the patrol anytime soon.