Brightside: Ocean City Beach Patrol combats spinal cord injuries

OCEAN CITY, Md. – Summer is in full swing and people across Delmarva are headed to the beaches to soak in some sun, and maybe even catch some waves. That’s why the Ocean City Beach Patrol is making sure beach-goers have a safe summer, with the help of an original, and now-standard technique that’s saving lives. “What we did in through trying to come up with different ways of stabilizing a spinal injury, suspected spinal injury,” says Lt. Ward Kovacs with the OC Beach Patrol. He adds, “We really found that it was easier to have our hands and our bodies as the backboard.”

The prestigious OC Beach Patrol lifeguards are known for their commitment to keeping beach-goers safe, with the help of their intense training. Part of their training is surf rescue, in which Lt. Kovacs developed an original technique that’s helping to prevent severe spinal cord injuries. “It’s not stable out there, that’s what causes the injuries in the first place, and we can strap somebody to a backboard and then have a wave take them away from us flip them over we may have stabilized their spinal injury, and then cause them to drown.”

Now instead of carrying swimmers out of the water on a board, lifeguards team up to carry someone out by using their hands and body. A practice we’re told is being implemented in countries like Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. “We treat roughly 100 suspected spinal injuries or possible spinal injuries down here per year,” says Lt. Kovacs. He adds, “I think the people that are reached by the technique and are helped by it, it’s a lot.”

Lt. Kovac tells 47 ABC, that summer is the best time to enjoy all that Ocean City has to offer, that’s why his lifeguards stay on their toes so beach-goers can do just that. “Our people just like emergency medical technicians are trained to use different equipment and as you saw in our demonstration of the neck and back technique, it’s a skill-set that has to be practiced and trained and honed over and over and over again.”

Since practicing this technique, it comes highly recommended by places like the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. “We’ve heard back from trauma specialists up there that are just amazed by how devastating some of those injuries are and yet they’re able through our initial care and treatment and followed up by our paramedics in Ocean City able to have a good outcome,” says Lt. Kovacs.

With the help of Lt. Kovacs, the American Institute for Emergency Medical Services in Baltimore made a training video, which is being shared up and down the East Coast, giving hundreds of lifeguards fine-tuned skill sets that are saving thousands of lives. “It really is more than just a summer job, they’re really getting a tremendous skill set here.” Lt. Kovacs adds, “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard is on the stand with all the equipment and all the techniques that we have, we can’t help you if we’re not on duty yet when you go into the water.”

If this story sparked your interest in the lifeguard field, the Ocean City Beach Patrol will have three testing days, Saturday, August 13th, Wednesday, August 17th, and Saturday, August 20th. The positions open are for next year.

Categories: Brightside, Health, Local News, Maryland