(POTJS Note: This feature is part of a continuing series on my visit to Lavallette two weekends ago. Here I got to sit down with Lieutenant Jack Caucino, second in charge of the Lavallette lifeguards)
“My role is I am essentially the co-captain here. Bob is the captain. He and I have been working together since 1981, and along with my brother, we all have been here all these years. I am the person in charge of doing things when he is not here. We work really well as a team. My job is essentially on the beach, making sure the lifeguards are trained properly and be sure the water is being watched properly, making sure that we are a safe beach, and that people are out of harm’s way.
“The life guards here get a lot of training, Monday through Friday. The kids are here at 8:45 every morning, and we’ll train them and have physical fitness for 45 minutes until they go to their stand locations are. We will do simulated rescues. We will do simulated board rescues, and simulated boat rescues. And then we will teach them various techniques both in and out of the waters for various medical conditions, like neck injuries, first aid, things like that. It starts with having a good foundation. These kids are good swimmers, to begin with.
“What we train the lifeguards to do if they are rescuing someone and the swimmer is panicking, we teach them to swim away from them until they get tired. Essentially once they get tired enough, they swimmer is easier to manage. Most people who get in a rescue situation tend to be tired because they have been caught in some kind of rip where they are getting tired, and the guards are there, and they are very happy to see them.
“People bring up extending the lifeguard hours in the summertime. I think that is a never-ending loop, that just doesn’t end. Because if you keep the lifeguards to 7, then if something happens at 7:15, then they will expect you to stay until 8, and so on and so on. If you have after hours life guard duty, then you have to have swing shifts, and you are putting the guards in danger, because they are by themselves. You are putting more people at risk. And when you establish bathing hours, that’s it. Now some beaches are staying open until 8 or 9. That works great in July. But in August the sun goes down earlier, but you have established bathing hours, so you have to keep the beach open.
“The misconceptions about life guards is that they are just up there putting on a show. And they’re not. Especially a beach like ours. We are very concerned about safety first. We want our kid to be in shape. We want our kids to work hard. But we want our guards dry. A dry lifeguard is a good lifeguard, because they are beating the situation to the punch. They are creating avoidance measures. When we put up yellow flags, people have to understand when we put up yellow or red flags, when we have bathing restrictions, people will come to us and say, ‘I have been swimming in this ocean my entire life, and I can go out there.’ And we tell them, ‘Yes you can.’ We know they can. But the problem is, we have to make the decision based on the swimming ability of the lowest common denominator. That 8-year-old kid, what will they think when they see someone else in the water. We can’t sit there and judge each one on a case by case basis, saying, ‘You can go out, but the other one can’t.’
“We have some people come to us and say, ‘Give is a swim test.’ As if we’ll shut down the whole beach to give a swim test to someone to see if they can swim in the ocean when a red flag is up. We can’t have an arbitrary bathing beach. So we have to make decisions based on how much danger are we willing to put an 8-year-old kid in, or someone who has come down for the day and is not familiar with our ocean. So that is why we make the decisions we make. It’s not like we don’t want to do our job. Believe or not, we would much rather have the people in the water, because it’s good for the town, and it’s good for the patrol. Sometimes the decisions we make are unpopular, but we have to take everyone’s skill level into consideration. At the end of the day it is in everyone’s best interest.”