The number of town beaches that will have lifeguards patrolling them this summer will be reduced from four to two.
That was the message delivered to the Bourne Finance Committee by town recreation director Krissanne M. Caron at Monday night’s finance committee meeting.
Ms. Caron presented the committee with a recreation department budget for next year of $169,119, a roughly 20 percent decrease from this year’s budget of approximately $211,000.
The drop in the recreation department’s budget is a by-product of town administrator Thomas M. Guerino’s austere overall town budget. Ms. Caron said that Bourne is similar to most coastal towns that have found they cannot staff all of their waterfront locations, given the current troubling economy.
“When I lifeguarded, every beach had a lifeguard, every waterfront whether it was ocean or pond. We can’t do that anymore,” she said.
The plan for this summer is to staff lifeguards at just Sagamore Beach and Monument Beach, she said. Last summer, both those beaches had lifeguards along with the beaches at Electric Avenue in Buzzards Bay and Hen Cove in Pocasset.
Mr. Guerino explained that the idea is to offer residents one guarded beach on each side of the canal.
“So that if parents are more comfortable with a guarded beach they have the opportunity to have a beach that has guards on it,” he said.
Lifeguard reductions are nothing new in Bourne. They were the catalyst for public outcry as recently as 2011. That year, in an effort to make budgetary ends meet, the town opted to cut all funding for lifeguards, leaving Bourne’s beaches unprotected. The move became the most hotly debated political issue of that summer, and drew statewide interest. The following year, on the strength of demands by residents, notably Roberta A. Dwyer of Gray Gables, the town budgeted $65,000 to staff three beaches with 11 lifeguards, two aides, and two swimming instructors.
Ms. Caron said that swimming lessons will be offered again this year, but only at Monument Beach. She said that the water at Sagamore Beach is too cold to hold lessons there.
Committee member William F. Grant asked if the state or the American Red Cross has mandates in place for the number of lifeguards that need to be on a beach. Mr. Grant pointed out that, years ago, both his wife and son had worked as lifeguards, and back then there were times when they were the only ones on duty. He suggested that perhaps the hired lifeguards could be spread out to cover more of the town beaches, given that there are times at some beaches when there are as many lifeguards working as there are people in the water.
Ms. Caron explained that a minimum of three lifeguards are assigned to each beach. She noted that lifeguards are trained to perform rescues in pairs, so a third guard is needed to monitor the beach while the other two are in the water.
“A third who would be available to clear the rest of the water, call 911, do anything else that might have to be done,” she said.
She said that all of the beaches have docks out in the water and the recreation department’s policy is to put a guard on the dock if there are more than five people on it.
“People are jumping off the backside and from the beach you can’t see if they’re going under, so we do staff with three,” she said.
She noted that there are times when Sagamore Beach has four lifeguards on duty because the Sagamore Colony Club brings more than 50 children at a time, necessitating additional staff.
Mr. Guerino said that ever since the Molly Bish murder in 2000, he has always pushed to have at least two lifeguards on duty at a guarded town beach. Molly Bish was the 16-year-old lifeguard from Warren who was abducted while working alone at Warren Pond.
“That is something I won’t have happen here, and since then I think there isn’t a town that doesn’t have at least two,” he said.
Committee member Glenn R. Galusha questioned the need for lifeguards at all. He said that he would like to see an updated study on what other coastal towns are doing relative to lifeguards on their beaches. Mr. Guerino said that a small study was done several years ago that led to a number of Bourne’s beaches being closed. Mr. Galusha pointed out that the study was done three years ago and things are changing. He mentioned that he has not seen lifeguards in Wareham in two years.
“I think an updated study would take a look at is this an expense that we need to consider,” he said.
Mr. Guerino said that residents made it clear within the last couple of years, at town meeting, that staffing the beaches with lifeguards is a priority. He noted that some residents were unsuccessful in trying to dictate where guards would be posted, but they were successful in getting the town to fund the positions.
“They certainly looked to add money for that purpose,” he said.