Dangerous surf conditions along the local beaches are in the forecast for early this week, as the number of lifeguards on Pensacola Beach are at their normal October reduction in force. Red flags are also up at Navarre Beach in Santa Rosa County, where lifeguards will be on duty through October 31.
Public Safety Director Bob West says a cold front moving into the area is the culprit for the rough conditions, with red flags up from Park East to Johnson Beach – closing them to swimmers -- at least through Tuesday. After that, he says look for some improvement, along with a continued reduced lifeguard presence on the beach.
“It looks like by the end of the week it will flatten back out again, but then we’ll be back into the fall” said West. “It’s normal to have surf now and not be flat, but we’re in the doldrums. The summer surf pattern is gone.”
At the peak of the summer season, there were 73 lifeguards on the payroll at the Santa Rosa Island Authority. The busiest periods saw more than 30 on duty at one time.
“This time of year, they’re basically all students, so during the week we’re particularly short,” West said. “Generally speaking we’ll have two people on the beach until March 1 when we reopen.”
While the figures won’t be out for another few days, West credits the summer “doldrums” for the lower number of rescues lifeguards performed during the 2014 tourist season.
As for the off-season – there really isn’t one anymore, says West. The work at the beach may slow down a bit in the fall and winter, but there’s still plenty to do – beginning with re-organizing the lifeguard force for next year.
“They’ll be back in the middle of December to qualify for next season,” West said. “Our new candidates come in for testing the first week of January, they’ll be in training in February and we’ll be back open in March.”
Meanwhile, West is looking for information about d of an early Sunday morning discovery. Someone over the weekend dumped a large amount of dead bait fish into the bed of one of their beach patrol trucks.
“I quite frankly do not understand this, and I’m still markedly upset about this,” said West. “Not just dead fish, but stinking dead fish and blood everywhere. And we use those vehicles a lot; we transport patients in those vehicles to meet the ambulance at the road.”
West filed a complaint with beach office of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, seeking to charge the perp -- or perps -- with criminal mischief to a government vehicle and vandalism charges. Besides the obvious inconvenience, West said the lifeguards on duty had to clean the truck, which pulled them away from the beach during a time of rough surf.
“That truck needed to be on the beach patrolling,” said West. “My lifeguards need to be in the towers watching people swim. Having those assets in the parking lot does absolutely no good to me trying to protect the public. I clearly can’t allow this.”
West says they’re developing a plan to store the trucks during off-hours, but he declined to be specific. As for whoever dumped the fish, he says he’d like to see them go to jail. But, West added that he would settle for a few thousand hours of community service.
Part of which, West says, would be spent washing the beach trucks.