PCB lifeguards training for beaches to reopen

Nathan Cobb
Walton Sun

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PANAMA CITY BEACH — In light of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, lifeguards are still preparing to protect the Gulf Coast.

If the temporary ban on all beach access is extended, the Panama City Beach Fire Rescue’s eight seasonal lifeguards will begin patrolling the beach for trespassers, said Chief Larry Couch.

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“Everybody just needs to understand that we’re doing this (ban) for a higher purpose, and that’s for this (virus) to dissipate and go away so that we can return to life how it was and enjoy the beaches,” Couch said.

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He added that in the meantime, lifeguards will stay on top of their cardio and water-rescue training in anticipation of the beaches reopening.

“With the beach being shut down, there’s not a whole lot for them to do other than getting their training done,” Couch said.

With 2020 marking the department’s first year overseeing beach safety in Panama City Beach, seasonal lifeguards will officially begin work April 1. They will work 40-hour weeks at $15 an hour.

Along with the department’s beach-safety division comes the public-private partnerships between it and beachfront businesses wishing for extra supervision. As of March 30, the department had none.

“Because of what’s going on right now and the uncertainty of the economy, they’re kind of on a holding pattern,” Couch said.

He added that businesses will pay roughly $150,000 for their first year of protection. It will then go down after that. This includes lifeguards and establishing all their necessary supplies.

Couch, who didn’t foresee the virus effecting his seasonal employees’ positions, added that the beaches currently look like a ghost town.

“We understand this is a very strange time for folks and it’s very unnerving,” he said. “The weather’s turning (and) everybody’s wanting to go to the beaches. ... It’s even hard on (the fire department. Our people like the interaction with the folks.”