Feb 01

Dinosaurs Fade Away

Share

A dinosaur reunion of two old friends breaking in his birthday present.

Dinosaurs is the name given to Atlantic City Beach Patrol members when they decide their carefree days have come to and end.

Where do all the ocean lifeguards go when they leave the beach? Well as my old pal, of fifty plus years, Joe Rush puts it, we fold our tents, take a last look at the ocean, turn into dinosaurs and make way for the next generation of King Neptune’s guardians.

Possibly our most difficult and saddest decision is the day we realize our romantic and exciting world of lifesaving days are over and it’s time to lay down the mantle, pass the baton and explore other horizons.

For me that came at a relatively young age, while still in my early thirties. For Joe, his beach patrol career carried on for many years. Still the sense of loss one felt was no different whether a young dinosaur anxious to get on with life, or seasoned veteran who would not know the term dinosaur for many years.

In my case I married during my last summer on the beach and when the season ended moved to New York State where my wife and I pursued teaching careers. After twelve years in New York I moved back to Atlantic City where my brother and I opened a seafood bar and restaurant.

Joe's 80 birthday party where a lifeboat stays ever vigilant

During the summer I would make it a point to visit the beach and spend time with Joe who was now a captain, commanding his own stretch of men, We would spend time visiting on the tent porch, reminiscing fondly about days of daring rescues, countless beach characters who made life interesting…and of course the beautiful women. But Joe was drawing ever closer to the day he would attain dinosaur status.

Joe had married years before and like my wife and I, he and his wife Nancy both taught school. The situation was perfect for him to continue working the beach, something he looked forward to every May. In the ensuing years he and Nancy were blessed with a couple of children who spent summers on the beach and acquired the same kind of love for it as Joe.

My life had reached a dead end in Atlantic City and I saw an opportunity to move to Arizona which I welcomed enthusiastically. After I’d been in Arizona for a few years I received word Joe had retired. Whereas I had moved almost the length of the country, Joe had moved no further than to a place called the Ocean Club at the foot of the boardwalk. Joe only had to fall out his front door to be on the beach, where I was almost as far away from the Atlantic Ocean as one could get. But regardless, we were both, now officially, dinosaurs

Another of many dinosaurs joins the group

That about closed the door on my Atlantic City beach days, except at times in the summer when I made the long trek east for a vacation.

I didn’t know if Joe and I would get to see each other again, but last summer I received an email saying there was going to be an 80th birthday surprise party for Joe right outside his Ocean Club condominium on the boardwalk.

I had a couple of other reasons to go back to Atlantic City and decided to make the trip, knowing seeing Joe would be a highlight of that visit.

I arrived at the boardwalk meeting place on the designated date and time. As I walked toward the crowd surrounding Joe, I reached for my camera, to record for posterity the meeting of these two old dinosaurs.

Jan 01

Lifeguard Faces Danger

Share

This is about the size of the waves I faced that day

A lifeguard in Atlantic City faces danger on a daily basis due to the makeup and conditions of the ocean.

My work day on the 6:30 pm shift was just ending. I had lingered for awhile to talk to a girl I was dating in order to make plans for the evening. My partner and another lifeguard were already up in the tent showering.

It had been a beautiful balmy day and some beachgoers were lingering in order to squeeze in every last second of sun worshiping pleasure.

What had been uncommon about the day was the size of the waves and a huge dangerous offset (undertow), covering a city block from my lifeguard station to Million Dollar Pier. Usually this type of day brings about pristine ocean conditions, glassy flat surface and small non-threatening perfectly shaped waves. However, it was the end of August and signs of hurricane season were starting to ramp up. In this type of environment, ocean conditions can be affected from hundreds of miles away.

I was just saying goodbye to my friend when suddenly I heard a shrill scream and turned to see a young female bather who had strayed from the restricted safe confines of where bathers had been directed. She was caught in a deadly offset, being swiftly swept toward the pier.

Instantly, I grabbed a can buoy, threw the harness over my shoulder, blew a run whistle to alert those lifeguards in the tent and took off in a dead run. Normally a rescue of this type is executed with a lifeboat but since the boat had been turned over and put to bed for the evening I had no choice. Instead of running at an angle to the victim, in which case I would have been trying to catch up with her, I opted to run down beach close to the pier, swim out and intercept her. I knew we would be swept under the pier but it was that or the possibility of losing her.

As soon as I drew close to the pier, I turned toward the ocean sprinted through the break and

Million Dollar pier in its early days

intercepted her. Within seconds we were under the pier. She emitted piercing screams as she experienced the horror of being sucked under this dark cavernous behemoth. A huge wave picked us up and slammed us into a piling. The can buoy served as a buffer for our upper torsos, but there was no protection for our arms and legs. Immediately we were slashed and bleeding as the green water turned crimson around us. Her cries became muffled as I realized she was swallowing water. I kept offering words of encouragement, telling her we were going to make it. And indeed I had reason for optimism because even though the waves were terrifying, in their power, inexorably they were pushing us toward the beach.

Suddenly, I saw a  lifeguard dash from the tent, then another and another racing toward the pier. The drama continued as each lifeguard had trouble negotiating the huge combers in their effort to offer a lifeline.

I was becoming more concerned about the girl’s condition just around the time the first lifeguard reached us. In what seemed like no time, a second and third guard appeared. Like angels of mercy they surrounded us holding on and guiding us to shore.

Million Dollar Pier as it is today. It doesn't extend as far out in the ocean as it did during this rescue.

Finally we were able to get our legs under us. As we made our way in we realized the girl had passed out. Now realizing the urgency of the situation, we doubled our efforts to get her to shore. Once there, we laid her on her stomach and started administering C.P.R. Another guard raced to the tent to call an ambulance. Within a minute or so the young girl began to cough and spit up water.

A large crowd had gathered from the boardwalk along with those who had lingered on the beach. They kept seeking out a lifeguard to ask if the young lady would be okay. We assured them that because she had spit up water the signs were good. The medics were there in record time and lifted the girl on to a stretcher.

The next morning our Captain called the hospital and was told the girl was going to be alright. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Then it was down to our stations to see what surprises lay in store.

Dec 29

Rookie Lifeguards First Day

Share

A rookie as you will see in this thrilling article was not thrown into the fray gently. After your initial training it was not unusual to be subjected to the kind of day Rick experienced.

I have reached out to present and former Atlantic City lifeguards to share some of their adventures with me to be included on this blog. The first response came from Ricky Yates about his rookie year. Rick’s short tale as a rookie guard came in the form of an email and was totally unsolicited which gave me the idea to include all Atlantic City lifeguards tales. The following is Rick’s missive.

“Bob—I read several more chapters (of your book) this weekend and many more memories are returning.

Ricky Yates and Joe Mufferi just beating a huge wave

If I’m correct, the Jackie pool incident at the Lifeguard Ball was Jackie Bishop.  I remember him well.  He was stationed at Maryland Avenue my rookie summer on the beach when I was stationed with Bob Fiocco and Will La Barr at Delaware Avenue.  My first day as a rookie on the beach was July 1, 1962, and it was the busiest day I ever experienced.  It was over 100 degrees inland.  The water temperature was warm.  The beach was crowded.

The seas were running hard from the northeast.  As a result, there was a major set working between Maryland and Virginia Avenues.  According to the count of the med student at the States Avenue tent we rescued over 125 people in that stretch that day.  The count for the A.C. beach that day was ~250 rescues.  As a rookie who wasn’t the greatest swimmer, I was exhausted from running between Delaware and Maryland and swimming out and back more times than I could remember!

I very much appreciated your account of the rescue with my grandfather and your overall description of how he was respected on the beach.  He was a great mentor for me.  He taught me to row and he and Tom Ford took me on my first swim around the Steel Pier, so I was ready to go my rookie year.  Beside tagging along to the beach with him before taking the test, I spent many days with him hunting, fishing, clamming, crabbing, etc.  When he died in 1971, I felt like I had lost my best friend.

The waves were most likely bigger than this on Ricky's first day

I have stayed in touch with Joe Mufferi over all these years  He now lives in Ventnor.  He and I continued to link up to row as an escort boat in the Around the Island Marathon Swim until the event was discontinued several years ago.  Over those years, we were fortunate enough to row with a winner, a second place finisher and a third place finisher.  We also had two swimmers who dropped out—one just couldn’t handle a rough ocean and the other had a bad reaction to a jellyfish sting.  In fact, Joe is going to join my wife and I at our beach house on the N.C. Outer Banks next week.  My daughter also bought a copy of your book for Joe that I will deliver to him.

And finally, you certainly have my permission to post the pictures I provided on your website.