Visitors to Lewes Beach will see a familiar sight this Memorial Day weekend, but it’s one they were not expecting to see just days ago.
Lewes has hired Strohm Edwards, head coach of the Makos Swim Club, to be its new lifeguard captain. The city will now be able to employ a full force of lifeguards for the holiday weekend, and should be able to recruit the 10 to 12 guards necessary for a full patrol. That seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. The situation became so dire that the decision was made to leave beaches unguarded this summer, rather than risk guarding the beaches with a skeleton patrol.
Members of the public, in particular the water safety community, felt it was unacceptable for a coastal town and something needed to be done. Leading the charge was North Shores Capt. Kent Buckson, the former longtime Rehoboth Beach Patrol captain, whose passion for water safety fueled his need to assist Lewes in finding guards for its beaches. During the mayor and city council meeting May 23, City Manager Anne Marie Townshend said she tried to reach out to Buckson earlier, but once the news broke, it was Buckson who contacted her about helping.
Buckson said he felt confident he could work quickly and effectively within his network to find the right person for the job. The veteran lifeguard with decades of experience knew Edwards would be the right man for Lewes Beach Patrol. Citing Edwards’ years of experience as a lifeguard with the Rehoboth Beach Patrol and connections as a youth swim instructor, Buckson said he feels the new captain understands what needs to be done to build an effective patrol program.
While they are still vetting applicants to fill the spots needed for a full force, Buckson said building the patrol to avoid any slips in recruiting will be an ongoing process. The city is hoping to have 10 to 12 guards hired by June 15, which it is believes is achievable. But, there are retention measures that can be put in place.
Buckson said Lewes has never had a junior lifeguard program, something he has established at North Shores and works as an effective feeder program when the guards come of age. Establishing such a program in Lewes can also help to get legacies involved in creating a system of siblings recruiting siblings. Edwards’ role as a swim coach is also seen as beneficial in not just the recruitment of established swimmers, but also tapping into sibling recruitment. Buckson said the junior patrol program is something Lewes is missing.
Lewes also does not currently employ an off-duty paramedic or EMS personnel at the beaches, which Buckson said is another step other coastal towns have taken. While lifeguards are very well versed in water safety, first aid and CPR, there are times when major medical emergencies can occur. Having the support of a medical professional on the scene could go a long way in helping to ease stress on young lifeguards.
Developing the patrol in a healthy manner is another key component to retention and recruitment, Buckson said. Offering a flexible schedule, paid time off, incentives for working out, and a fun work environment are helpful in making sure lifeguards stay in peak physical and mental shape. The demands of the job can be offset by thoughtful management practices fostering a culture that is attractive to current and future lifeguards.
Buckson will continue to work with Edwards and Lewes to fill the patrol for the summer and has plans for the resurrected patrol as well. Wanting to build excitement around guarding the Lewes beaches, Buckson is planning to hold a lifeguard competition at Savannah Beach sometime this summer with patrols from all around the area.
“It’s a matter of getting the word out now. They have a captain in place, which is huge because he can get that train on the right track,” Buckson said.