TYBEE ISLAND OCEAN RESCUE
Tybee Island Ocean Rescue is a huge part of our lives. We live on the island where thousands of people come to sit in the surf, surf the tube dude, kayak, paddleboard and vacation. Water is our world. However, not many pay attention to how dangerous the waters can be. Tybee Island has one of the biggest tidal swings on the Eastern Sea Board. That means that the tide can shift before you know it. You want to walk over to Little Tybee for a picnic? Sure, the tide is out and it looks easy. The problem is that tide will swing back in before you know it, and you are going to be either stuck on Little Tybee or in for a major swim with rip tides that can kill you. It is very serious!! You think you can go for a light swim out to sea? That water will turn on you in a heartbeat and you will tire out before you can make it back. Water don’t play people. Thankfully, we have people that are trained in this specific field.
Every single member of TIOR is certified in CPR and Life Rescue. These people train every day, whether it be physical, medical or rescue, they are prepared to save you from whatever situation you may find yourself in. Not only do they respond to what is in front of them, these highly trained individuals respond to anything in their area that they can possibly be of assistance - medical emergencies for sure! I have seen that first hand!
In our sit down with Chad, Michael and Justin, we asked them what was the craziest thing they have ever been a part of and they all had a story to tell: Gunshot wounds (just the once), lightning strikes (on actual human bodies), missing kids, looking for bodies in the water, overturned boats, people drowning, and everything else in between!!!
Lightning strikes??? What??? Yep. Also, a proud record they hold is that they have never NOT found a child or a parent at the end of the day! Perfect record!
When we chatted with the senior ocean rescue men, Stephen and Brandon, it was apparent that these gents take this job seriously. Both friendly, but it took a few minutes of joking to get these two dedicated men to open up. During the entire interview, we stood with our backs to the water as they constantly surveyed the beach and ocean behind us, looking for anyone in need of assistance. Once we were able to get these very serious professionals to open up, it was heartwarming. Two wonderful people who train constantly to put their lives on the line to save those in need. When asking what moments brought everyone in the TIOR the closest, the answers seemed to mesh up: Save lives. “When faced with threatening situations, such as strong currents calling for TWELVE people to be rescued under the pier, while more were being swept towards the south end jetties, is one of the reasons why they call us adrenaline junkies,” Stephen joked.
Being the top dogs on the beach isn’t all fame and glamour. The guys and gals of TIOR face many challenges. Besides the constant dangers in the water, and the stress of being responsible for so many lives, they find themselves constantly in the sun, hoping for calm waters, always aware of their surroundings, and watching for distressed swimmers. Stephen pointed out, “What brings us together in this job also tears us apart.” In high stress situations it’s easy to get on each other’s nerves, but these heroes are professionals and are able to work as one unit.
There are many stories these men and women told, some funny to the craziest questions asked by tourists, such as, “Is the ocean on BOTH sides of the pier?” to the crazy and scary calls. Brandon recalled a few years back when a group walked to the sand bar, and the tide quickly turned. Three lives were lost that day, and nothing hurts more than not being able to save someone. When we asked Stephen about his most memorable moments, he said, “Sex complaints, naked people, and couples [doing it] on the beach. But we turn those over to TIPD.” Crazy calls aren’t the only type of call they respond to. These brave individuals have also had some close calls. Stephens’s scariest memory was on a cold, rainy day. The beach was deserted, and off shore all he could see was a head bobbing in and out of the water, swiftly being pulled out to sea. Adrenaline set in, and he and his partner leapt into action. They arrived at the woman in distress, who refused to hold on to the can. The situation grew worse as the water became fiercer. It quickly became apparent that if this woman was not calmed down and rescued, that all three may surely drown in the strong current. Once back at shore Stephen told me, “She didn’t say thank you or anything, she just got back in the water.”
We asked if any of the lifeguards were volunteers, and Chad told us all were city employees, and a division of the fire department. With that being said, one might wonder where the funds come from for these highly trained professionals. The answer is Parking Services. It really does pay to park!
To give you an idea of what occurs on a monthly basis, we took a look at last year’s numbers. May through August of 2016, there were 0 drownings, 175 water rescues/assists, and 417 medical. Those are large numbers for such a small spit of land.
So, the next time you are on the beach, give a friendly wave to your neighborhood lifeguard. The next life they save may be yours.