How much is your child’s life worth?

View from the Strip
By Casey Lessard

I didn’t ask Richard and Anna Kovar how much they would be willing to pay to bring their daughter Jule back to life; instead, I’ll put the question to you. If you were able to give money to revive your child, would you pay $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, $1 million?
This is not a budgetary issue, as Lambton Shores CAO John Byrne says (see following interview). If the budget were your family’s, you would find the money, right? And you would find it right now instead of thinking about it and waiting for someone to tell you it’s the right thing to do.
So why is it, then, that Lambton Shores continues to wait for a report from a professional body analyzing the situation at Grand Bend beach before it makes a real move to secure the safety of swimmers at the beach? I’m sorry, but a few life rings are not enough.
The fact is, a life ring is useless if there is no one on the beach to throw it to a person who is drowning. Like the saying about a tree falling in the forest, if someone drowns when the beach is empty, does anybody see?
I’m surprised that no one has the foresight to say, until a report is done this fall, that we will go above and beyond the minimum (life rings) to make sure our residents and guests are safe. I use the word guest because that’s what a tourist is. They’re not strangers who don’t deserve our attention. They are guests whose money we want, yet whose safety we cannot ensure. Worse yet, the guests who we fail the most are those who are most vulnerable: young people like Elizabeth Tse, 20, Jule Kovar, 14, and Ryan Albrecht, 17.
What is the best we can do until the report comes in? In a 2001 United States report called Lifeguard Effectiveness: A Report of the Working Group, commissioned by the National Center for Injury Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that the chance of drowning at a beach patrolled by lifeguards is less than one in 18 million per year. In one example, the study – compiled using statistics from the U.S. Lifesaving Association – noted that in 1990, five people drowned on Memorial Day at American Beach in Nassau County, Florida, one year after lifeguards were removed because of budgetary restraints. A short time later, lifeguards returned and the number of drownings dropped to zero for the eight years leading up to the report’s release.
Grand Bend’s lifeguards are on duty five hours a day during the week and seven hours a day on weekends (12 noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday and holiday Mondays). Friday morning, when our cover shot was taken, there were still none on the beach at 9:20, and there were people swimming in very rough conditions. Among them were Jacey Gardner (on cover) and her friend Breanne Johnston, both 14, of Windsor. They were attracted to the waves for “the rush,” Johnston said. “It’s fun because it makes for bigger waves,” Gardner added.
Where would those girls be if Stephanie Donaldson and I were not meeting there that morning? And they weren’t the only ones swimming in the 3’-4’ waves; we also saw a woman with her two young children and a man with his toddler.
Lifeguards are more than rescuers. In fact, their most important role may be to prevent swimmers from putting themselves in danger in the first place. Why do people keep drowning here? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the last three victims have drowned after lifeguards go off duty.
With a season that runs from the end of June to Labour Day in September, the beach patrol costs the municipality $48,000 per year. That’s not much when you consider that the town brings in $350,000 annually from its parking lots. Even a round-the-clock patrol wouldn’t equal the income from people visiting Grand Bend.
If stores were being robbed on Main Street, or pedestrians being stabbed, would the police put a set of handcuffs on the station wall after hours? Surely someone would see a trend and step up patrols. Don’t our beachgoers deserve the same treatment?
The Kovars are waiting for an answer.