- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — A rash of drownings over the past two years has prompted the city to hire 13 lifeguards to work evenings this summer.

Starting Saturday, 10 city-paid lifeguards will climb aboard their stands at 6 p.m. when guards employed by a private contractor go off duty. Three other guards will patrol the beach.

The late-shift guards will work until dusk every day through Labor Day.

City officials had asked Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service Inc. to keep half of the lifeguards in their stands from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. But operators of the company, which is paid $455,000 annually by the city, said the overtime would cost an additional $82,032.

City officials said the evening crew will earn $13 an hour and will cost the city $42,080.

In the past two years, six persons have drowned in the ocean at Virginia Beach after lifeguards went off duty.

Kent Hinnant, president and CEO of Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service, said the city didn’t contact him about extending the hours this season until the last minute. And even when it did, the expectations weren’t always clear.

“What we have here is sort of like a moving target,” Mr. Hinnant said. “When they contacted me, it was about working from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., and now they’re talking dusk.”

Extending lifeguard hours has become more of an issue since the oceanfront beach was widened two years ago. Today, the beach stretches farther out from the boardwalk and away from the evening’s creeping shade from the hotels. Beachgoers are staying out and swimming later.

Mr. Hinnant hasn’t seen the city’s plans, but he questions whether the city can hire 13 more guards.

“All up and down both coasts, lifeguards are at a premium,” Mr. Hinnant said. “They’re like nurses who can walk into any hospital and get a job.”

Ed Brazle, a division chief for the city’s Emergency Medical Services, said the city is actively recruiting extra guards.

“We’ve got a pool of people we’ve worked with over the years, and we’re drawing on those with other lifeguard services,” he said.

The city also is considering hiring Mr. Hinnant’s guards once they go off shift.

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