Queens groups request lifeguards

As the Fourth of July holiday weekend approaches, a number of civic associations are asking the Parks Department for more lifeguard deployments along the Rockaway shoreline, where a shortage means that sections of the beach are closed to the public.
“In an age when children are obese, and the mayor is trying to make sure there are no trans-fats in foods, we need to make sure that children are allowed to swim in the water - instead of just sitting on the beach, looking at it,” said Barbara Larkin, who, as President of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association (BHPOA), which represents over 1,300 residences.
“At this point, what we’re trying to do is just have a full contingent of lifeguards. There is a brand new pool in Flushing, it’s a state-of-the-art facility and there is no reason why they can’t use that for training and testing.”
Larkin, the Vice President of the Queens Civic Association (QCC), wrote a joint letter in June with QCC President Corey Bearak to Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Department of Parks & Recreation, requesting more lifeguard training facilities and a date by which to expect access to more beaches.
The letter stated that the QCC, which represents over 110 civic and community organizations in Queens, “expected both the assignment and deployment of a full contingent of well-qualified lifeguards to provide adequate and safe coverage along Rockaway’s [7.5-mile] stretch of shoreline each day from Memorial Day through Labor Day of this year. That need remains unmet nearly one month into the season.”
On the beach, red flags that prohibit swimming stand in the absence of lifeguards, while Parks personnel drive or park nearby, reminding people not to go in the water. Larkin suggested that the money spent on these vehicles would be better put to use by starting new lifeguard training programs.
“It’s the whole community that is unsatisfied with the coverage,” said Jonathan Gaska, District Manager of Community Board 14, adding that there were individuals on the board as well as various civic associations who made complaints. Along with local groups such as the Neponsit Property Owners Association, Congressmember Anthony Weiner and Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer suggested ways to increase deployments.
The QCC got on board in February 2006, with then-President Sean Walsh writing to Benepe, followed by Fred Kress writing as President of the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces a month later.
Lifeguards are currently recruited from recruitment centers as well as from other countries. Mayor Bloomberg wrote to the BHPOA explaining the city’s recruitment campaign, while Benepe answered Larkin’s and Pheffer’s letters describing the department’s adherence to health code requirements. With a lifeguard on the jetty (where most of the beach accidents occur), on the chair and on foot patrol for one beach, more lifeguards would not necessarily allow more beaches to open.
“Many of our lifeguards are high school students still in school during the month of June and lifeguard staffing levels typically do not reach their peak until the Fourth of July. This June’s unusually hot weather drew larger crowds than normal to the beach even though summer had not yet arrived. We are cautiously optimistic that we will meet last year’s record number of 1,100 lifeguards at our city’s beaches,” a Parks Department spokesperson said in a statement.
Larkin agreed. “We usually have pretty much a full contingent in July.”

More from Around New York