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Lavallette Officials Say Presence of Emergency Crew Does NOT Mean Beaches Are Guarded

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Lavallette lifeguard headquarters. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Lavallette lifeguard headquarters. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The presence of an emergency crew of lifeguards on duty in September to respond to calls should not be construed as beaches being guarded, Lavallette officials said Tuesday night, clarifying differing opinions that had been shared via social media.

The borough council voted Tuesday night to allow the emergency crew to remain active for the rest of 2020, as long as officials deem it a necessity – driven by weather and beach attendance. Initially, the Water Rescue Response Team will work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday, Sept. 8 until Monday, Sept. 14, said Borough Administrator Robert Brice. The guards, however, will not be manning lifeguard stands.

“Our insurance regulations call for an all-or-nothing approach to running the beaches,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero. “Either we’re open or we’re not open.”

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The final verdict: beaches are not formally open. At the same time, however, a municipality cannot legally restrict members of the public from accessing the water. With many more people than usual attending beaches post-Labor Day due to remote working and learning driven by the coronavirus pandemic, the decision was made to “close” guarded beaches after Labor Day, but retain a few qualified guards that will only respond to emergency calls.

“There’s a misconception” about the emergency crew, said Councilwoman Joanne Filippone. “This does not in any way imply that beaches are guarded. After Labor Day, the beach is technically closed and you swim at your own risk.”

The emergency contingent will respond to calls to 911 and the police department, said Borough Administrator Robert Brice. The team remains on standby at the lifeguard headquarters building ready to respond to a call, Brice has said, and they do not conduct patrols or watches.

“They’re not out there looking for people in trouble, they’re not out there looking for rip currents,” said Brice, adding that water rescue teams fielded by local fire departments will also respond to emergencies, as is normally the case after Labor Day.

Councilman Michael Stogdill said the emergency team is a precautionary measure.

“Today there was a decent crowd there – just a little less than a weekday during the summer,” he said Tuesday night, highlighting the fact that Lavallette’s beaches are now free as badges are no longer required. Some other towns have maintained badge checkers into September this year.

“A lot of people may be looking for a free alternative, guarded or unguarded,” said Stogdill, predicting Lavallette’s beach attendance may be more than expected.

While long celebrated as “local summer” by year-round residents, swimming in the ocean in September comes with an element of danger, which could be exacerbated by the presence of beachgoers unfamiliar with beach characteristics.

“A lot of times people don’t know the ocean, it looks just fine, but they can’t see that rip current,” said Stogdill, referring to a scenario where the emergency team could be deployed. “I hope we don’t have to use it, but better safe than sorry.”

Currently, the team consists of between two and three guards on call on weekdays and five or six on weekends. The council will continue to authorize the team’s usage as long as conditions warrant, LaCicero said.