WALTON COUNTY Fla. (WMBB) — The South Walton Fire District’s lifeguards were at a disadvantage all year long.
They were short-staffed and reported four drownings before the summer season even started, but supervisors said they will be making some changes based on what they have seen this year.
Four fatalities, a shark attack, and a human chain were just a few incidents from this year’s beach season, that made it unique to any other.
“In the ten years that I have been doing this, this is absolutely the toughest year I’ve ever seen,” said SWFD Beach Safety Director David Vaughan.
Vaughan said this year was unlike any other, with over 700 public assists and water rescues. They were short-staffed all season long patrolling the beaches, which saw five million visitors.
“We had a very rough spring, where we had four fatalities,” said Vaughan. “But over the course of this season, we’ve also had four life-saving where we’ve been able to bring people back to life.”
Two of those fatalities occurred in April when beach-goers formed a human chain to save two other victims caught in a rip current. The two fatalities were of those who were in the chain, not the two original victims. Vaughan said the outcome of this season could have been much worse, but his staff was well prepared with the limited resources they had.
“We’ve had more double red flags than we’ve ever had before, we’ve had more red flags than we’ve ever had before,” he said. All of which were record-breaking for this year. Including the shark attack off of Grayton Beach. The last reported attack was back in 2005.
Due to the high volume of calls, SWFD met with county officials in the middle of this season to ask for more full-time lifeguards, to prevent issues in upcoming years. They are currently negotiating to raise the number from 14-to-26 for the next contract year.
Although the traditional busy season is over and Vaughan said his staff is exhausted, lifeguards will continue to patrol beaches throughout November to February.