Seaside Heights lifeguards have rescued between 30 and 40 people since raging rip currents began affecting the Jersey Shore late last week, claiming lives in several local communities and placing a significantly responsibility on the borough’s water rescue team, which is part of the Seaside Heights Volunteer Fire Department.
Calls remained a near-constant concerned on Wednesday. During an hour-long borough council meeting, three saves occurred – one in Normandy Beach, one in Seaside Heights and one in Seaside Park – and the borough’s fire alarm briefly interrupted the proceedings at times since the council chambers sits atop the firehouse.
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Seaside Heights is one of the few towns that have kept lifeguards on duty past Labor Day. Guards continue serving the week after Labor Day and through the following weekend, then two more weekends, Sept. 16-17 and Sept. 23-24.
The water rescue team is a rapid response team that does not remain on the beach at all times, but can be called to rescue swimmers in distress through 911.
“The guys have done a tremendous job,” said Councilman Richard Tompkins, who volunteers his own time with the water rescue team transporting personnel and equipment. “They’ve rescued between 30 and 40 people over the last week alone, including four people today.”
Tompkins and other officials said they were considering proposing some type of island-wide water rescue and recovery service given the propensity for visitors to continue coming to the Jersey Shore later in the season. Meanwhile, the island’s year-round population continues to increase and more local visitors are using beaches on fair-weather days since remote work has become commonplace. But while the sun may be shining and the air temperature nearing 90 degrees, rip currents have proven deadly.
“Other towns either can’t do it or won’t do it,” said Tompkins, referring to running a full water rescue squad. “I’ve been a big advocate of every town putting someone on the beach on a quad who can pull someone out of the water.”
Seaside Heights’ water rescue team is outfitted with an impressive array of equipment, from four wheel drive vehicles that can pull Zodiaks on trailers, to a powerful pickup truck that can be loaded with rescue equipment and tow a jet-ski directly to the scene of a rescue in progress.
Call volume, according to borough statistics, is already higher one week into September than the entire volume recorded in any other month this summer.
On Wednesday, Seaside Heights’ rescuers responded to a call as far north as Normandy Beach, an island neighborhood split between Brick and Toms River townships that is managed by a private beach association (though with the use of municipal guards for which the towns are reimbursed).
“Even if it’s Seaside Park, Normandy Beach, Island Beach State Park, our guys are there,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz. ” I have to talk to the other mayors of the island municipalities, because we have to start thinking about what we’re going to do post-season. This is getting out of hand.”