This isn’t your typical lifeguard job at the community pool. The South Walton beach lifeguards are a group of highly trained, physically fit guards who keep visitors to our beaches safe.
The South Walton Fire District (SWFD) lifeguards monitor the entire length of Walton County’s sandy beaches. Even if there is no guard tower in sight, the beach guards will still respond on their ATV or on foot.
Lifeguards are the first responders to all 911 calls that come from the beaches. A large portion of these calls include medical issues such as cardiac events, strokes, diabetics.
“We perform a public service. Our job is to prevent people from getting into trouble and help them when they do,” said David Vaughan, director of SWFD Beach Safety.
Each guard is required to meet the team’s physical standards, which include swimming a quarter of a mile in the open water, running 0.6 mile in the soft sand and using the safety equipment.
However, Vaughan is convinced that they can turn anyone into a lifeguard. “We can teach skill but we can’t teach will. So, if you keep showing up, we’re going to mould you and help build that skill set. We can make a waterman of anyone who wants to do it,” he said.
To keep up on their fitness, the team trains together twice a week at 8 a.m. at the Ed Walline public beach access. The workouts change each day but are designed to test the skills and abilities of the lifeguards.
The lifeguards come from all different backgrounds and many hold EMT certifications, as well as military and medical backgrounds.
“We have a bunch of overqualified people who want to serve the public. They do this part-time or do this on the way to doing other things,” Vaughan said.
Lead guard, Isaiah Boyd, has been on the team for four years and holds EMT certification. He originally joined while studying engineering in college but ended up making this a full time career. “I really joined because I needed a part-time job. I quickly realized there’s more to it than just sitting in the tower. It’s a big medical job, and you become a contributing member of the community,” Boyd said.
It’s a common misconception that being a lifeguard involves just sitting in a tower and blowing a whistle. There’s much more to the job than the public realizes.
“As soon as I got in that classroom and started learning the medical side of things and realized there’s a lot more to it than sitting up there (in the tower). From the point you get in the tower, peoples’ lives are in your hands,” Boyd said.
The junior guards learn rescue techniques, the ins and outs of beach conditions, and perform physical training routines. It’s a 3-week program that meets 3 times a week.
The junior program has proven successful for recruiting. Two of Vaughan’s current lead guards are former junior guard members. “It’s really a benefit to start developing them at a young age, getting them confident out in the water and move them toward becoming good stewards of the community,” Vaughan said.
Junior or adult, this hard-working team of lifeguards is on the beach every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. serving the visitors and locals with a smile and a helping hand.
SARAH O’BEIRNE is a summer intern with 30A. She is majoring in journalism at the University of Illinois and has vacationed here for many years.