Atlantic City Beach Patrol adds WaveRunner to its late-shift squad

By LYNDA COHEN Staff Writer, 609-272-7257

Published: Sunday, August 10, 2008

ATLANTIC CITY - The Beach Patrol's newest member has a sleek body and is great on the water. But it's the ability to cover the whole town from one station that has gotten the most attention.

A WaveRunner joined the patrol this year. It adds a new level to the late shift that keeps watch over Kentucky Avenue's beach two hours after most guards have gone home.
"It gives us greater range to make rescues quickly anywhere in the city," Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise said.
Lt. Joseph Dilks estimates the personal watercraft can answer any water distress call in the city within three or four minutes.
"That's quicker than the police, firefighters, State Police or Coast Guard," he pointed out.

The WaveRunner is equipped with a life sled. Two of the shift's four lifeguards are personal-watercraft trained.

On a recent evening, Ryan Rodjinske - a fifth-year guard - walked into the ocean to play the victim, so guards John Bennett and Brian Berrio could practice their rescue technique.
With Bennett in the driver's seat and Berrio behind, the two took off past the swimmers taking advantage of the after 6 p.m. guarded beach. Guard Doug Field kept watch from the stand.
When they got close, they let the inflated rescue sled down. Berrio climbed off the craft and into the sled. As Bennett made another turn around Rodjinske, Berrio reached over and lifted the "distressed swimmer" onboard. Then, as he would if this were really someone in trouble, Berrio laid on top of Rodjinske to keep him from falling from the raft. The three returned to the beach unharmed.
The after-hours patrol started in 1999, in response to the drowning of a local woman who perished saving her nephews who were caught in rip currents off Kentucky Avenue about an hour after guards went home. Johnette Bailey was the third victim in local waters over that week in July. Two others drowned in Ocean City.
Now, the four-person crew that also has one commander uses the personal watercraft along with an all-terrain vehicle.
"Until this year it was just called the Kentucky Avenue late shift, focusing primarily on Kentucky Avenue," Aluise explained. "But the ATV and (WaveRunner) were implemented so the jurisdiction was expanded to cover the entire city, Inlet and all."
The group is there until 8 p.m. After that, it's too dark to safely use the personal watercraft anyway.
"There are a lot of obstacles," Dilks pointed out. "Rocks, pipes, jetties."
But that doesn't mean saves can't be made. The WaveRunner's only rescue so far this summer happened in July after even the late shift would have been gone.
It was 8:05 p.m. when the radio call came that two people were in distress in the waters near the Trump Taj Mahal Casino and Resort. The craft already had been cleaned of saltwater and put away, Dilks said. But the crew got it out.
While two guards took to the water in the WaveRunner, the two other guards and commander headed toward Delaware Avenue on the ATV. It took three minutes, Dilks said.
Three boogie boarders were in the water. The guys on the craft got one of them; the three on the ATV all got in the water and brought in the other two.
The late shift's guards are all at least 18 and in their third year on the patrol - when they lose the "rookie" moniker. Each week, a different group is assigned. They come to their normal station at noon, then head to Kentucky Avenue at about 5:45 p.m.
Last Sunday, this crew brought in two girls after hours. Twenty minutes later, a man needed help getting back. The watercraft wasn't needed. They made the saves the old-fashioned way.
But the PWC-licensed guards make sure they keep fresh.
During downtime in their shift, the two on duty will take the watercraft out. They're especially on the lookout for errant swimmers who could move down to the guarded beach, or anyone who may be in trouble.
"We tell them, 'We want you to be safe,'" Dilks said. "Lot of time people will pick up their stuff and move."
On a recent weekday, it didn't seem difficult to get the beachgoers to make the move after 6 p.m. Intrigued by the team doing a test run on the WaveRunner, many bathers didn't need to be asked.
The equipment also did a good job luring people over on its own. A group of men gathered around the unattended craft as Rodjinske got into the water to play victim in the mock rescue.
Riding the waves, the guards on the water have a radio. Since they may not hear a call over the motor, it's their job to stop every 10 minutes or so and call in, Dilks said.
"I know other beach patrols are doing this now," he said. "It's been a topic of discussion among patrols this summer."
North Wildwood has had two personal watercraft for a few years. After the beach closes at 5:30 p.m., a crew is on standby until 8:30 p.m. to cover the entire beach.
Ocean City keeps a crew at the Eighth, Ninth and 12th street beaches until 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. They have a PWC at each of their four headquarters. They also are on call to work in conjunction with emergency personnel for water rescues.
E-mail Lynda Cohen: [email protected]