South Walton Fire District shares beach safety tips on 'Good Morning America'

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA ROSA BEACH — The South Walton Fire District regularly shares beach safety tips with the public, and this week, the district had the opportunity to inform a national audience. 

Beach Safety Director David Vaughan appeared on "Good Morning America" to talk about the dangers that can come with using large flotation devices on the water as well as general safety tips for anyone visiting the beach this year.  

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Walton County beach safety personnel were on duty at Gulf Place in South Walton County.

While the SWFD has shared its messaging with some larger markets before, Vaughan said this was the first time he can remember that they’ve had national exposure. 

The "Good Morning America" team happened to reach out to the SWFD for information in its June 2 segment on beach safety — an encounter Vaughan attributes to recent exposure through Rip Current Awareness Week and other public safety campaigns conducted by their public information officer, Mackenzie McClintock. 

South Walton Beach Safety Lifeguards MaKena Kimball and Ian Rogers spot a swimmer in the water under double-red flag conditions at Ed Walline Park earlier this year.

“I think it’s probably due to our PIO’s amazing job of enhancing our social media footprint,” Vaughan said. “Somehow we popped up on the (search engine optimization).” 

The segment focused on the dangers certain flotation devices can cause in the water, with multiple stories of children being swept as far as a half mile off shore. The most common devices swept out are giant, inflatable unicorn and swan pool floats. 

Vaughan said the SWFD has had at least a dozen calls like that already this year. 

A lifeguard with the South Walton Fire District swims in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It happens with enough regularity that I’m glad that national exposure was brought to it,” he said. “None of them have had bad outcomes, but it’s not an unusual type of call.” 

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Vaughan said the message is important to get out, not only to keep visitors to the South Walton beaches safe, but to hopefully reach to people vacationing in other areas around the country. 

“Anybody who's going to be traveling any significant distance to any beach anywhere in the world, when they see something like that it piques their interest and it gets the wheels turning,” he said. “If they’re exposed to that messaging, then it may actually sink in, which is the goal.” 

Some of the most important tips Vaughan hopes people take away from the segment are that they should familiarize themselves with the area, as well as the flag system and any potential hazards that could arise if conditions change. 

“Know that in an open body of water like the Gulf of Mexico, conditions can change very rapidly for the worse,” Vaughan said. “Even under calm conditions, if you’re on a flotation device, wind gets blowing the wrong way and it can blow you out to sea.”

Oversized flotation devices are not built for open water like the Gulf of Mexico. In the event the device is pulled out to sea, swimmers should stay on the device and wait for help. 

South Walton Fire District Fire Chief Ryan Crawford, lifeguard Zander Angelovic, Beach Safety Director David Vaughan and EMS Chief Tim Orenic (left to right) pose for a photo after Angelovic rescued a struggling swimmer. Vaughan shared water safety tips on "Good Morning America" recently.

Vaughan said he and the SWFD were "extremely pleased" to be able to represent the Florida Panhandle on the show and share its message with a national audience. 

“We do our best efforts to get our messaging out, and exposure at the national and local levels is exactly what we need,” he said. “We’re extremely grateful to 'Good Morning America' for giving us a platform to speak to that.” 

Click here to watch the "Good Morning America segment on beach safety and the use of flotation devices.