Fire Chief gives update to lifeguard program; 40 years at work

Panama City Beach

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — The need for more lifeguards along Panama City Beach is continuing and as the vacation season approaches, that need increases.

This year, the Fire Department is taking over the lifeguard program.

The Beach Safety program is a compilation of the fire department, police department beach patrol, and parks and recreation’s lifeguards.

On Thursday morning during the council meeting, Chief Larry Couch gave the council and citizens an update to where the program is now.

The sands of PCB have had lifeguards since the 1970s and one person who has seen it grow from the very beginning is councilman Paul Casto.

“My first job with Panama City Beach, I was a lifeguard and we have come a long way. We didn’t have any flag warning systems, or ay jet skis or any of the life-saving devices we have today. We didn’t have the people back then that we have today but we still had undertow and still had drownings,” Casto said.

Now as a city leader, Casto says the next step to making sure visitors and residents stay safe in the water is education.

“Trying to improve the public info about the undertow. A lot of people are not familiar with it, they don’t understand it. They don’t understand how dangerous it is when we do have a double red flag day and we’re just continuing to get that message out,” he said.

Chief Couch says now that his department is over the lifeguard program, education and patrol will be improved.

“The police department and the parks did a great job but they were confined to one area with the parks and then they had three people roving so the city has given us the opportunity to grow the program with more staff, that’s where the difference will be,” he said.

He says their challenge is hiring employees for the upcoming season.

“Most of them are basically seasonal employees. We need more people out there on the beach instructing folks to get out of the water on red flag days and to educate them why, why we’re asking them not to get in the water when it’s double red flags or even if it’s red flags and it’s a rip current in a certain area.”

They are currently looking for eight more lifeguards and actually bumped up the pay to $15 per hour.

“The plan is to try to add five lifeguards each year for the next five years and as the city keeps going, we may need to add more,” Couch said.

No matter the year or circumstance though, Couch says the goal is always the same; keep people safe and alive.

“We’re going to be out there and put as many people on the sand as we can. That is our goal.”

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