SOUTH WALTON Fla. (WMBB) — Along the 26 miles of South Walton beaches Volunteer Beach Ambassadors assist lifeguards, one of those volunteers helped save a life this weekend.
But county leaders have said something more still needs to be done.
“Then I came upon someone that was actually caught up in a near-drowning, and caught up in a rip current,” said Volunteer Beach Ambassador Delanne Bernier.
Bernier is a luxury homes Specialist with Corcoran Reverie, but in her free time she volunteers for South Walton. Bernier volunteered Sunday while double red flags were flying.
“We were given whistles last year to be a double red flag brigade,” said Bernier.
She came across a man struggling to swim out of a strong rip current, so she cleared the beach and instructed someone to call 911. While that was happening, she called out to the struggling swimmer.
“And then kind of pantomimed how he needed to stay calm and he needed to swim parallel to the shore,” she said.
More chanted in unison so the swimmer could hear, which helped him get to safety.
“And he’s alive,” said Bernier.
South Walton Fire District Beach Safety Director David Vaughan said although it is great getting help and support from their community partners, like the volunteer beach ambassadors, there is an underlying issue there that has gained national attention.
“The hiring has been very difficult,” said Vaughan. “That’s been true since 2019.”
Vaughan sees a constant change over in lifeguards since they are temporary positions.
“But in order to effectively respond in that emergency capacity, we’ve got to have the numbers,” said Vaughan.
Currently, there are only 40 lifeguards and seven full-time lifeguards to cover all 26 miles of beach.
“As the beach safety program grows, because we are adding regional beach accesses and we are adding tourists, we are playing catch up,” he said. “What we need to be able to do is offer a full-time benefited, career type option.”