He may be a first-year lifeguard with Dewey Beach Patrol, but 59-year-old Chris Perreca is hardly a rookie in the water.
A Naval Academy graduate who swam and played water polo for the Midshipmen, Perreca served 26 years with the U.S. Navy.
Originally from Maryland, Perreca was enjoying a day on the beach in Dewey in 2013, when he was approached by lifeguards who saw him swimming and offered him the opportunity to work. At the time, he was a full-time engineer who didn’t have the time for a guarding position.
The next year, he jumped into guarding, taking a rookie spot with Cape Henlopen State Park.
“I’m retired, so I have the blessing to do some fun things,” said Perreca, who splits his time among Delaware, New Hampshire and Maryland.
He then did some fall guarding in Dewey in 2015 before joining the patrol at a New England beach. He eventually returned to the Cape Region to be closer to friends.
“It’s fun here and there are good people,” he said. “The captain [Todd Fritchman] is firm but fair, so he’s a good leader. That leadership permeates all through the ranks. If you have strong leadership, the right people will find the patrol, and Dewey is that patrol.”
Being a member of Dewey Beach Patrol is all about teamwork, said Perreca, who can typically be found on a stand anywhere from Carolina Street south to Rodney Avenue.
His duties comprise monitoring the ocean for sea life and distressed swimmers, but right now, most of the time he is concerned about people becoming dehydrated or overheated.
“They can get sick if they’re not careful,” he said. “Lifeguards always have their eye on the water, but for about half the day, we’re concerned with activities on the beach.”
The caliber of his fellow rookies is outstanding, Perreca said, noting the patrol comprises many state and collegiate champions in wrestling, lacrosse, and of course, swimming.
“They are some of the most diverse athletes I’ve worked with,” he said.
All Dewey Beach Patrol members must undergo rigorous training and education; the patrol is nationally accredited by the United States Lifesaving Association to certify members in open-water rescue.
Each guard is also certified as an emergency first responder by the Delaware State Fire School and as a healthcare provider by the American Heart Association. All lifeguards complete training in CPR, standard first aid and c-spine injury stabilization.
First-year lifeguards complete a minimum of 21 days of rookie training that concludes with the annual rookie test. This year’s events were run, swim, run; mile swim; half-mile run; 220-yard soft sand sprint; push-ups; 50-yard swim sprint; line charges; buoy charges; stand pull; and rescue and access.
Perreca officially earned his blues by completing the test with 19 other first-time guards and even performed to a top-five finish in the push-up event. Guards who fail to complete the test are considered rookies until they have a second chance the next summer.
When each guard joins the patrol, they bring with them different experiences, Perreca said.
“The young people are enthusiastic and learning new skills, and I take joy in talking to young swimmers and caution them to respect the water,” he said.
Of all the captains he’s worked for, Perreca said Fritchman is exemplary.
“He cares, and he has high expectations,” he said. “I do this because it’s fun and it’s the best work location you can find. If I can impact a couple people every week, that’s very satisfying.”