BELMAR, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — After a record number of drownings on the Jersey Shore last year, due in part to extreme rip currents, one town is taking extreme action as it prepares for the upcoming season.
Summer after summer, many seasonal employees return to their posts on Belmar beaches. This year, the town says it’s looking to hire new lifeguards and management.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, not everyone agrees with the measure.
“I think they do a good job here with lifeguards,” one resident said. “There were unfortunate deaths last year, but they were mostly after-hours and people not obeying what they should with rules.”
The changes were recommended by the town’s police chief.
“He felt it was time to make sure lifeguards had all of the resources that they needed, that proper staffing levels, policies, procedures, and coordination with all of our first responders was available,” Belmar Business Administrator Colleen Connolly said.
The 70 member squad has 1.3 miles of shore to cover. They’re the first line of protection, rescuing hundreds of people each year.
Last summer, two cousins — 12-year-old Emily Gonzalez-Perez and 13-year-old Mitzi Hernandez — drowned when they went swimming at an unguarded beach after-hours. Connolly says their death wasn’t a motivating factor in this year’s changes.
Each lifeguard and manager received a letter informing them of the changes and encouraging them to reapply.
Ray Elms has been on the squad since 1975 and has served as director for the past 5 years.
“I feel very disrespected, this isn’t the way to go about it,” Elms said.
He says he’ll without a doubt reapply, touting his 43 years of experience.
Seasonal employees will all have to reapply every year. This year, a special search committee was formed to review and fill each lifeguard and management position.
Chief Andrew Huisman says the decision isn’t a criticism of the past, but improvements must be made for the future. All applications are due April 1.