NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Swimming is off limits at city beaches, but residents in Queens are demanding lifeguards be put on duty after a man drowned Friday at Rockaway Beach.
The rip currents were fierce Saturday.
Surfer Gary Golembiewski knows how dangerous the water at Rockaway Beach can be.
“I’ve been in scary situations where, and I’m a pretty good swimmer, and I’ve gotten caught close to being not coming out of the water,” he said.
Golembiewski is saddened but not surprised a man drowned on Friday.
Rescuers frantically rushed into the waters off Beach 91st Street on Friday, but not in time to save 24-year-old Fidel Ramirez of Brooklyn.
Police say he had been caught in a rip current while swimming with two other men.
Residents say they’re worried the drowning could be the first of many this summer, especially since the city says there will be no lifeguards at city beaches for the indefinite future.
Traditionally, lifeguards start the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend but the mayor has banned swimming entirely in an effort to promote social distancing.
The Heart of Rockaway Civic Association says lifeguards are imperative.
President Lisa George says the rules can be confusing because there are signs along the boardwalk that say lifeguards are on duty and, in some spots, surfers are also allowed in the water.
George adds many people just don’t understand how dangerous the rip currents really are.
“People should not be in the water, but after coming out of a pandemic in which we’ve been in our house for over two months, people want to get out. The ocean is there,” she said.
The city’s parks department says it’s currently working to remove the incorrect signage across city beaches. It says additional officers are also on patrol to help remind New Yorkers not to swim.
The city is now urging people to comply but says if they don’t, it will fence beaches off completely.
But residents say it’s unrealistic to think people won’t go for a swim as the weather warms up.
“I think there should be lifeguards. I think that even when we have lifeguards, a lot of people drown so I feel like without them, there’s gonna be just way more people drowning,” one person said.
“People want to go into the water and they’re going to go in the water, they’re not gonna listen and I think those responders should be nearby just in case someone does go in,” Golembiewski said.
The city says lifeguards began their training last week and will be ready to take their stands when it’s safe to do so and swimming is allowed.