Drowning Points Up Need For Lifeguards
The heat wave mercifully ended last week after six consecutive days of more than 90-degree weather.
On that day, July 23, the body of a 16-year old girl, lost while swimming in the water at Rockaway Beach near 116th Street, was found. The city Medical Examiner has made a positive identification and officially classified the death as due to accidental drowning. It was the first drowning incident at a city beach or pool this year.
A Parks Department spokesperson said the beach at 116th was fully staffed on July 18 when the 16-year old girl was lost. A companion was rescued by lifeguards. New York state law requires one lifeguard for every 50 yards of beach.
“Our busiest beach is 116th,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe said to Eyewitness News in June. “We’re going to keep our lifeguards at our busiest beaches.”
During a pre-summer heat wave in June, a man was arrested for wading in the surf near his home in Rockaway. There were no lifeguards on duty at the time and he was repeatedly told by Parks and Recreation Department employees that he wasn’t allowed in the ocean.
Swimmers are not allowed in the water on weekdays between Beach 9th and 60th Streets and Parks and Recreation regularly patrols the area to make sure no one goes into the water.
The Queens Civic Congress, in testimony to the City Council Parks and Recreation Committee on the city Lifeguards Program on Nov. 13, 2007 said Parks routinely does not employ enough lifeguards in the Rockaways, while hiring other employees to ride along the shoreline to remind citizens to stay out of the water because no lifeguard covers a particular section.
Between 1988 and 2007, 13 people died at Rockaway Beach while lifeguards were on duty. Last year, on August 3, the single victim out of more than 16 million visitors to city beaches drowned at Rockaway, according to the New York Times (Sept. 9, 2007).
The city of New York has 14 miles of beaches and more than half (7.1 miles) are at Rockaway. Known for strong rip currents, the Rockaways attract about 3 million visitors annually. The city also operates 53 pools. There have been six drownings at city pools between 1988 and 2007.
Last year, 1,150 lifeguards were employed by the city. The Department of Parks and Recreation was seeking to hire 1,200 lifeguards this summer. Lifeguards work 48 hours each week and are paid a minimum of $12.55 an hour in their first year.
Beaches and pools are open through Labor Day. In Queens, the Daily News recently designated the city’s largest pool, Astoria Pool (19th Street and 23rd Drive) as “Best Pool in the Borough”.
Other Queens pools are Fisher Pool at 99th Street and 32nd Avenue in Jackson Heights, Liberty Pool, 172nd Street near 107th Avenue in Jamaica, and Fort Totten, Story Avenue and Pratt Avenue in Bayside.