Friday 28 October 2016

Treating jellyfish stings, saving lives ... Meet Dublin's very own Baywatch

Lifeguard Gary Fitzgerald, from Killiney. Killiney Beach, Killiney, Co. Dublin
Lifeguard Gary Fitzgerald, from Killiney. Killiney Beach, Killiney, Co. Dublin

Meet Dublin's very own 'Baywatch'. Lifeguards at beaches on Dublin Bay's sandy shoreline have all bases covered when it comes to safety.

There is an annual surge in the number of visitors to Dublin's beaches during summer and councils are increasing the number of lifeguards on duty.

Treating jellyfish stings and minor cuts and bruises are a daily occurrence for lifeguards as luckily more serious incidents are few and far between.

Shaun Bonner (18), a Swords native on duty at Skerries South Beach, urges visitors to exercise caution when it comes to fun in the sun. "People are willing to risk their lives for a football. Especially in Malahide, if the ball goes in the water someone will go and chase it and they could be halfway down the channel," he said.

"We had to rescue one guy and when he got out of the water he could barely stand."

Gary Fitzgerald (26), a lifeguard with six years' experience with Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council, said that safety checks are the first port of call before the beach opens to bathers.

"There's Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) under the hut, we check that they are all working, we check the medical equipment and then ring the coastguard," said Gary.


Fingal County Council lifeguard Emmet Wilkinson (21), from Naas, told the Herald about a recent frightening moment on the beach at Donabate. "I thought I saw someone in the water, face down," he said. "I said to the other lifeguard on duty, 'Get the defibrillator ready, get ready to ring the coastguard if I give you the signal'.

"I got as far as the water's edge, when I realised it was a Mickey Mouse balloon," he said, with a laugh.

Over the past number of years there has been an increase in anti-social behaviour at the seaside. Last June gardai were called to Howth and Claremont beach as violence broke out. In May 2013, gardai were called to Portmarnock's Velvet Strand to disperse a near riot.

"Anti-social behaviour can depend on what beach. Howth and Portmarnock are the two that you'd get trouble at, a lot of people come out to drink," explains Colin Caverly (21), a Fingal County Council lifeguard, from Blanchardstown.

It's illegal to consume alcohol on the beaches but approaching gangs can be dangerous. "A group of lads were causing havoc on the beach at Portmarnock. The other lifeguard called the police and when they were escorted off the beach, one of the lads started threatening to come back, saying 'I'm going to come back tomorrow and get you'," says Emmet.

However, above all, the lifeguards would much prefer to be out on the beach than stuck in office. "When it's a gorgeous day there's no better job, on quiet days we just go off and we can train as much as we want, which is brilliant," Gary says.

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