GULF SHORES, Ala. (WKRG) — Lifeguards make fast decisions keeping locals and visitors alike safe in the waters along our stretch of the Gulf of Mexico. This year lifeguards in Gulf Shores performed more than 85 rescues, and beach season is far from over.
“It’s not uncommon for us to get in the water like a couple [of] times a week, whoever it is, we’re over on the beach,” said Lifeguard Mac Hirsh. “Normally there’s hot spots, but this season it’s been all over the place.”
You see them rolling out on the beach, in their towers watching the water, and they perform dozens of rescues every year. In fact, during the month of June the team alone performed more than 30 rescues.
“What the general public doesn’t understand is you know we have a lot of very young people working out here, and it’s a very responsible job, and you’re putting that in the hands of teenagers,” said Gulf Shores Fire Rescue Chief of Staff Melvin Shepard.
You read that correctly, Chief Shepard told WKRG News 5 that most lifeguards are between 17 and 24 years old. Gulf Shores is typically a pretty busy beach. It certainly was over Memorial Day Weekend when lifeguards made dozens of rescues.
“We actually had a helicopter staffed that day which the state troopers gave it to us, and one of our lifeguards was in there and they dropped out too to save somebody,” said Hirsh. “We ended up having seven lifeguards in the water to pull out eight people.”
Sarah Hardgrave was working as a lifeguard and also responded to that same rescue. “I don’t even remember running to the rescue, I just kind of remember being there, and I didn’t really have time to be scared,” said Hardgrave.
These lifeguards go through training getting them ready to save lives. “We go through the USLA Academy which is, I believe, 48 hours of training over the course of two weekends where you have to pass certain standards for swims and runs, so that kind of gives everybody a baseline, but when you work here, you want to exceed that standard, that way you’re well prepared when stuff like that happens,” said Hirsch.
From saving lives to changing them, Rangers with Gulf Shores Beach Rescue do more than water rescues. “I had [an] elderly gentleman approached me on the beach and said hey my wife’s about to pass away and she wants to see the Gulf one more time before she passes,” said Ranger Tammy Burkhart.
“I took her down to a spot that was a little more empty. And I said, okay, so you saw the Gulf. Now put your feet in and she started crying and she said, ‘yes, please.’ And so I helped her husband and he and I took her out about, you know, ankle deep, something like that, and got her in the water,” said Burkhart. “And it was just very rewarding. That’s one of the benefits of this job is you get to help people every day.”
Helping beach visitors from near and far that’s why we honor Gulf Shores Beach Rescue with our Smiles Behind the Shield Award for the month of July.