Jul 23 2009

Should Sullivan’s have lifeguards?

By Ali Akhyari

It came as no surprise that Sullivan’s Island Town Council members took some time during their July 13 meeting to discuss the recent string of tragedies associated with strong currents which have killed three people this year. However, it was a bit surpris-ing to hear that one of the suggested solutions was to install more County Parks with lifeguards in places like Folly Beach instead of Sullivan’s Island.

Between Thursday, July 9, and Monday, July 13, Sullivan’s Island Fire Chief Anthony Stith stated that his department attempted to rescue 13 people from the churning Sulli-van’s Island waters. Of those, three have been taken to the hospital, one has drowned and one still has not been found and is presumed dead. In addition, another boy also drowned near the island a few weeks prior to the incidents mentioned above.
To combat the problem, the Sullivan’s Island Town Council had several suggestions such as using the word “deadly” instead of “dangerous” on the signs that adorn every beach access. They also suggested using water condition flags like those used on life-guard towers. However, using actual lifeguards on Sullivan’s was a matter of debate.

Council member Madeleine McGee asked some very important and progressive ques-tions during the Council meeting, asking if these incidents were isolated or indicative of a trend and questioning if the Town’s current approach to water safety should be re-evaluated. Chief Stith stated that the incidents were isolated because weather condi-tions created the dangerous currents. However, he noted that there are simply more people on the beach due to the trending population growths in Mount Pleasant and the surrounding areas. People are going to keep coming to Sullivan’s Island, he said. The weather, too, will continue to do its thing. But despite the rash of rescues and tragedies, Sullivan’s Island is hesitant to put lifeguards on their beach.

McGee then suggested that the County provide more parks with lifeguards; not on Sullivan’s Island, but in other areas like the Isle of Palms and Folly Beach in order to draw people away from Sullivan’s Island. She suggested that putting lifeguards on Sullivan’s Island would encourage more people to come here, resulting in more people in the water.

Tom O’Rourke with the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Department said that they would love to expand the areas in which they provide lifeguards. Despite the recent tragedies, O’Rourke said that the preference would be to expand the parks that already exist in areas like Folly Beach and Isle of Palms, simply because there is a higher density of people at those beaches. Sullivan’s Island, he says, has a relatively small number of beach goers. Beach safety, he says, is a top priority and they would work to provide lifeguards if Sullivan’s Island requested it. However, O’Rourke says that there has never been such a request or discussion from the Town, although it was stated at the Sullivan’s Island Town Council that the County could provide lifeguards at no cost.
Liability was another concern which had Council members hesitating on the lifeguard issue. Council member Jerry Kaynard wondered if the Town would accrue liability if lifeguards were provided on only parts of the beach. Council decided to approach the Town’s attorney on the matter.

O’Rourke pointed out that while he is unsure of the “liability” the Town might accrue, he thought that it could not be any higher than providing no lifeguards at all. Chief Stith also noted that the surrounding areas have grown tremendously and the beaches are becoming busier as a result.

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