On guard for thee

View from the Strip
By Casey Lessard

I wish I could be more thorough with my evaluation of this month’s release of the Lifesaving Society’s aquatic safety audit of Grand Bend beach. Unfortunately, I was late receiving a copy and had only today (the day I am sending the paper to the printer) to digest the 70-page document. (Staff responses to recommendations are included in the public report, and official comments will come in a future report.)
The Lifesaving Society saw no “priority concerns” that would require immediate attention, but made 30 primary recommendations and 19 secondary recommendations. At the time of the audits (May 30 and June 27, 2008), the beach was operating within the range of safe practice, as the Society calls it. It received that mark of approval because none of the areas covered by the primary recommendations threatened public safety. One month after the audits were performed, Ryan Albrecht of Stratford drowned at the beach.
While the report calls for improvements to record keeping, signage, staffing, and equipment, extended lifeguard hours were considered a secondary – or low-priority – recommendation. To the extended lifeguard hours concern, staff suggested such an extension in working hours to 6:30 (plus a half-hour to tear down) would be “overkill” for weekday patrols. It should be noted that Ryan Albrecht drowned minutes after lifeguards went off-duty at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday. Such an extension would not have helped Jule Kovar, who drowned in 2007, and went under the waves at 7:30 p.m.
One of the recommendations that is sure to spark debate is the one to close off the pier to pedestrian traffic. This may be a good idea, but a suggestion to ban swimming within 50 metres of the pier is more critical. Jule Kovar may be alive today if this ban were in place.
I am not in a position to make conclusions about the report or the municipality’s response to it today. I will be spending more time analyzing it as the summer approaches, and will find out which of the recommendations will come to fruition this year. I hope to keep the municipality to its word so that your safety and the safety of our visitors remains top priority. To me, that’s the most important part of this year’s beach enhancement.