GULF SHORES — After a trial period in which 38 people were rescued over Memorial Day weekend, city public safety officials hope to expand a program to use state helicopters to help lifeguards …
GULF SHORES — After a trial period in which 38 people were rescued over Memorial Day weekend, city public safety officials hope to expand a program to use state helicopters to help lifeguards assist swimmers.
At a Gulf Shores City Council work session Monday, June 20, Fire Chief Mark Sealy said helicopters from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency were deployed to help lifeguards during the busy weekend. He said city first responders have been working with ALEA on the program since the beginning of the year.
"We made a plan to utilize their helicopters to assist to help deploy our lifeguards," Sealy said. "In March or so, they practiced this and then we had a plan to bring the helicopter down on a busy weekend. So, we did that during Memorial Day and plan to do it again July 4 and maybe Labor Day."
Sealy said the Memorial Day weekend was a combination of high waves and large crowds with a very large number of swimmers having to be rescued.
"Memorial Day was very rough. Lot of heavy surf that weekend. Had 38 rescues, which is incredible and the things they do down there just continue to blow me away," Sealy said.
In one incident on West Beach, eight swimmers were rescued around the 800 block at one time, Sealy said. Four of the victims were transported for medical evaluation.
One of the lifeguards who rescued the eight swimmers on Memorial Day, Mac Hirsch, was also recognized at the meeting as the Gulf Shores Lifeguard of the Month.
Sealy said using the helicopters to deploy lifeguards gets assistance to swimmers in distress much sooner.
"It allows our lifeguard to be deployed quicker and without having to fight the surf on the way out to be able to effect rescues," Sealy said.
Brian Hand, an ALEA pilot, said the agency would do whatever it could to help protect swimmers.
"We appreciate it and are glad that you are allowing us to work with you guys and we continue to look forward to working more in the future but refining what we're doing to provide safety," Hand said.
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said 38 rescues was a very large number, even for a holiday weekend. He said that in each of the incidents that weekend and throughout the rest of the year, lifeguards and others put their own safety at risk to protect people in distress.
"That's just amazing," Craft said of the number of rescues. "And every time we have that, we put our folks in harm's way to have to go out there in the surf and we've seen from precedence in the past that it takes specific training. In areas where they don't have that training, the outcome is not good."
Craft said many people who go into the Gulf do not realize the dangers.
"This time of year, one of the biggest concerns that we all face here along the Gulf Coast is safety of our citizens and our visitors entering the water," Craft said. "It is a dramatically dangerous place to go particularly if you don't know what you're doing and most of our visitors down here do not understand rip currents. I'm not sure how many of our folks that live here truly understand rip currents. It's really important if you get in the water."