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PCB fine-tunes lifeguard program

Nathan Cobb
nathan@waltonsun.com
Walton Sun

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Officials hope to tackle beach safety with a proactive approach.

With a full-time Aquatic Rescue Response Team and a group of seasonal lifeguards, Panama City Beach Fire Rescue will soon try its hand at protecting the gulf.

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For Fire Chief Larry Couch, the program will be something the department continually works to expand.

“Each year we want to build on this program just to put more folks down there,” Couch said during a recent PCB City Council meeting. “The more folks we have out there on the beach, the better prevention we’re going to have.”

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To prevent the city from reliving its record number of drownings in 2019, PCBFR also has 12 United States Lifesaving Association trained firefighters who can help the beach-safety program when double-red flags fly.

“We’ve had a rough go at the past few years,” Couch said during the meeting. “Our goal is to put more folks on the beach and to save more lives than we have in the past.”

According to information from the meeting, the city’s 9 miles of beachfront property has been split into three zones, which are separated by the Russell-Fields City Pier and the M.B. Miller County Pier.

To protect these areas, the fire department will set up a lifeguard tower at each end of the city pier, along with having ATVs roam the entire region.

“We’re going to be adding some more equipment,” Couch told councilmen. “We’ve got trucks out of our fire budget that we’re going to be adding to this and that’s the first step from where we are right now.”

Additional protection along the coast will then fall on individual beachfront businesses. According to city spokeswoman Debbie Ward, they will have the option to lease lifeguards from the department, who will then protect their portion of the beach.

As of Feb. 27, the department had seven applicants for seasonal lifeguards, but no business partnerships.

“(The Aquatic Rescue Response Team hopes) to have eight seasonal workers on duty at all times,” Ward wrote in an email.

She added that there would hopefully be a pool of about 30 for the department to alternate between. Seasonal lifeguards will start April 1.

In the near future, PCBFR plans to also set up beach-safety headquarters along the coast, Couch said. He hopes to add more seasonal lifeguards each year.

“The goal would be to have one on the east and the west end of the beach,” Couch said. “We’re looking at maybe getting some of our public partners to help with that (along with) some grant funding to help build those facilities.”