- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2009

OCEAN CITY (AP) | Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin knows how much the Internet and technology affect his work — he now works from anywhere — but he said his lifeguards’ responsibilities have exploded in the 80 years since the patrol’s start.

Mr. Arbin said he “basically runs the Beach Patrol,” from his La Plata home. “As long as I have my laptop, I can do it from anywhere.” He uses e-mail to communicate with lifeguards and performs much of his purchasing and payroll work online, sitting at his Southern Maryland home.

Every year from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Ocean City lifeguards must be prepared to identify seashells for children, tell tourists from across the Mid-Atlantic and the East Coast how to tell a shark from a ray, and handle crowds gathered around munitions that wash up on shore.

In 1930, the beach patrol was created with one man — Edward Lee Carey — who was hired by Mayor William W. McCabe and Coast Guard Capt. William Purnell.

The city and Coast Guard agreed to create a beach patrol because visitors and swimmers were wandering to new beach areas far from the Coast Guard tower where lifeguards kept watch in the 1920s.

The Beach Patrol has come a long way from its humble roots as a one-man operation in the summer of 1930. It wasn’t long until another man, John Laws, was hired to be a lifeguard on the weekends.

By 1935, several men had been hired, including Bob Craig of Wilmington, Del., who would be the patrol captain for 40 years. While he was the captain, Mr. Craig allowed women to become lifeguards and the beach patrol started offering protection and services to visitors all the way to Delaware.

Susan Cain was 22 in 1978 when she became Ocean City Beach Patrol’s first female lifeguard, ending what Mr. Arbin called “more of a boys club” from the 1940s to the mid-1970s. Now there are 47 female lifeguards out of about 220.

Ten years earlier, Mr. Craig hired 57 more lifeguards to cover the new territory up to the Delaware line.

“There wasn’t a whole lot up there,” William “Bru” Brubaker, then 16, said of his first year as a guard on what was then called the North Beach. “Bobby Baker had a hotel up there called the Carousel. Otherwise, it was all cottages and sand dunes. We were pretty far apart [on stands].”

Probably the biggest change for lifeguards is the required physical and mental training during a session before Memorial Day.

Beach Patrol Lt. Ward Kovacs said today’s requirements are much more advanced and stringent than they were under Mr. Craig’s leadership.

“Used to be, if you could pull [Mr. Craig] in from the Inlet, the next day you’d have your own chair,” Mr. Kovacs said of the one-day testing.

Since 1986, lifeguards have been known as surf rescue technicians.

“They need to know everything on the beach. We don’t want them to not know the answers to any of it,” he said. “The lifeguard is part of the beach environment, so we want to make sure the lifeguard is aware of all the aspects,” he said.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore teaches lifeguards about sea life such as rescuing beached whales and dolphins and identifying seashells.

Law enforcement agencies teach lifeguards how to recognize criminal activity, identify gang members and notify authorities and protect visitors when explosives from World War II wash ashore.

Of course, lifeguards also learn medical and first aid training that’s much more advanced than CPR and first aid courses. Now they can set a person’s neck and back after swimmers hit their head on shorebreaks, and lifeguards carry defibrillators.

To get around, senior lifeguards use ATVs instead of walking or running everywhere, and personal watercrafts have replaced rowboats.

All of the changes and advancements reflect a united belief in a reality perceived 80 years ago: Lifeguards are meant to protect others when they visit Ocean City’s beaches, Lt. Mike Stone said.

“When you leave the beach after a day of rescues, for an 18-year-old kid, this might be the most responsible thing they’ve ever done in their life,” he said.

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