JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. -- Can you make the cut? That's what Jacksonville Beach Lifeguards are asking new recruits. Right now, there is a national shortage in lifeguards, particularly on the first coast.
Lifeguard Captain and Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue Lieutenant Rob Emahiser says they would like to have triple their current lifeguard staff.
Emahiser says compared to neighboring beaches like Neptune and Atlantic, Jacksonville Beach leads in their number of rescue cases due to an increase in tourists in the area from surrounding hotels and public parking, but says the biggest swimming danger of all is the pier.
Lifeguard George Paugh is a big advocate for their “family;” he first joined the Life Saving Corps at Jacksonville Beach in 1964. You can often find Paugh on their lookout tower peering through binoculars scanning the sand and sea.
“I am 74-years-old and proud of it,” says Paugh.
He says the training to get into their unit is not easy, but he says it shapes you for the rest of your life.
“It is probably the best place to be for a young man or young lady,” says Paugh.
He encourages people to try out for their station, but warns that “it’s not easy."
Emahiser says a perk the public may not think of with Jacksonville Beach lifeguards is their tie to local first responders. Just as he is recruiting for his lifeguard station, local firefighters and officers see his staff as a perfect pipeline for their stations.
“We have at least 15 firefighters with St. Johns County and even more with Jacksonville,” said Emahiser.
Like Gordon Vandusen, a beach lifeguard and rescue swimmer who also works for St. Johns County Fire and Rescue as a paramedic.
Gordon says the experience he gained lifeguarding led him straight into paramedic school. He recommends it to anyone trying to fine tune a career path.
“They can overcome any conflict they come across in their life," says Gordon. "Our recruits go through a very intense 12 week recruit class.”
Emahiser says the Life Saving Corps team is a family, and it can also be a home. They have dorms for men and women. They also have an oceanfront recreational center. Outside of work in Jacksonville they travel to compete in tournaments, as well as traveling internationally to train lifeguards abroad.
He says their legacy shows in their staffing, their awards, several of which are signed by past Presidents, and even in their equipment, as their chairs and buoys are all made locally.
“If you show up with a mental and physical toughness, we can teach everything else,” says Emahiser.
Emahiser says the lifeguard shortage could be due to an increase in young people getting an education. He also says their budget can be tight, but they are working on expanding.
Right now, the lifeguard chairs go to 16th Avenue South at Jacksonville Beach, but this summer they want to extend it to 25th Avenue South, which is another reason they need more lifeguards.
He says lifeguard stands are rare on some beaches, like Ponte Vedra, because those areas are much less populated and are usually outlets to private clubs, properties and hotels or parks. However, St. Augustine Beach and Vilano Beach are well staffed, but also in need of more lifeguards.
He says there are 5 lifeguard chairs in Neptune, about 8 in Atlantic, and 6 in Jacksonville Beach. They will soon will have about 20 out in Jacksonville for the summer season on Sundays and holidays. During the week they only have budget for 13 chairs.
Their lifeguards are paid Monday through Saturday but are strictly volunteer on Sundays and the holidays.
Emahiser says there is no lifeguard unit that compares to Jacksonville Beach. He encourages anyone to come and try out.
Recruitment classes are being hosted at the Jacksonville Beach Life Saving Corps located at 2 Ocean Front North on April 23 at 9 a.m. and again on July 16t at 9 a.m.