x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Drownings prompt call for more lifeguards

A recent spate of "avoidable" incidents has sparked a discussion in Dubai about beach safety and the need for more patrols.

A Royal Life Saving Society member says open beaches, such as Jumeirah, should have at least six lifeguards.
A Royal Life Saving Society member says open beaches, such as Jumeirah, should have at least six lifeguards.

DUBAI // The sunny beaches of Dubai, which attract thousands of tourists and residents each year, should be more heavily patrolled after a series of drownings in recent months, a safety expert has warned. The death in April of a 22-year-old Emirati man near Jumeirah Beach Residence has sparked a discussion about the safety of Dubai beaches and the need for more lifeguards. At least five drownings were reported in March, one of which involved the deaths of four people in the Umm Suqeim beach area.

Drowning is second only to road accidents as the cause of accidental deaths in Dubai, said Stewart Hodsoll, a lifeguard based in Dubai and a member of the Royal Life Saving Society. "The recent cases of deaths due to drowning at the beaches could have been avoided," he said. "If there are three lifeguards in open beaches here, we need six." Dubai Municipality, which is responsible for safety at open beaches, has said it was hiring more lifeguards, and also planned to step up patrolling along the coast. But Mr Hodsoll speculated that economic conditions might have slowed that process.

"There is definitely a shortage of lifeguards, and with the present financial climate, lifeguards are often not a priority. It is the first one to get dropped from the agenda." The civic authority has 36 lifeguards stationed at open beaches, public pools and beach parks that fall under its jurisdiction and is aware of the need to recruit more as Dubai's population grows. "With Dubai expanding in terms of construction and population, the municipality is keen on increasing the number of beaches and pools for people, and this would require more lifeguards," said Mohammed Hassan al Fardan, the head of the municipality's recreation and promotions section. The civic lifeguards are stationed at the Mamzar Beach Park, Jumierah Beach Park, Mushrif Park and all open beaches in Dubai. Mr al Fardan said beach visitors are constantly told about safety concerns.

"The municipality continues to warn and highlight visitors about these kind of dangers through sign boards, leaflets and books with safety instructions for beaches," he said. In addition, lifeguards are made aware of the latest in practices. "There is also regular training to make sure they have proper qualifications to look after beaches," said Mr al Fardan. However, their levels of education may not be up to the task, and the same may be true of their supervisors, according to Mr Hodsoll, who has submitted a report to the municipality calling for more international-standard certification and medical equipment. "Most lifeguards in beaches here are managed by people who do not understand what they are doing or what is the role of these men," Mr Hodsoll said. "Besides, there is little to no training offered to these men who protect the beaches.

"Things have not changed. There is need for a lot of awareness, starting from schools, about safety in beaches. Technically, a lifeguard must reach a swimmer in distress within three minutes. This is not achieved in the UAE." An incomplete level of training could cause a lifeguard to hesitate to engage in a rescue, said Candy Fanucci, an expert swimmer and trainer. That could cost lives. "Lifeguards here are sometimes unsure themselves if they can rescue the person, as they do not have proper qualifications," she said. "It is possible that they may themselves drown." To combat this, Ms Fanucci is set to open a school for lifeguard training in Dubai by the beginning of September. It will be for students from beginners to advanced stage and would teach everything from physical fitness to rescue techniques. "The sea here looks calm, but it is very dangerous," she said. "If we start with training at a very young age, by the age of 16 they would be competent." The minimum age for joining her school will be seven. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae