MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A decades-long practice in Myrtle Beach will end with no more dual-role lifeguards, a change in which city leadership and a local lifeguard company said will increase safety at the beach.
“It’s going to change everything we do completely,” said Weslyn Lack-Chickering, general manager of Lack’s Beach Service.
Beginning this season, lifeguards in Myrtle Beach will only tend to water safety, while concession workers deal with sales, without any room for crossover.
The City of Myrtle Beach has two franchise agreements for beach services. The head of Lack’s Beach Service said beachgoers will notice the difference.
“We’re very excited,” Lack-Chickering said. “We think it’s going to visually be so much more appealing to a beachgoer. I think they’re going to see the physical difference and feel safer.”
Dual-role lifeguards patrolling city beaches goes back decades in Myrtle Beach. Talks ramped up this off-season to re-write the agreements between the city and the two franchisees.
“It was just the right time to do it, and we could accomplish it by amending the franchise for the next two years,” said Mark Kruea, a spokesperson for Myrtle Beach. “I’m 100% for the fact that they do not sell concessions.”
“Lifeguard can focus on being a lifeguard,” Kruea said. “The person doing rentals can focus on rentals which districts, I think, from being a lifeguard.”
Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said she’s glad to see the agreements aligned with the city’s priority on safety.
“I am grateful that our beach franchisees are aligned with the city’s priority to provide a safer beach for our residents and visitors,” Bethune said in a statement. “Providing lifeguards that focus solely on keeping people safe is truly the best model for our community.”
Last summer, Lack’s Beach Service was ordered to pay more than $20 million to a Maryland family in a wrongful death lawsuit.
“When we looked at this, we saw that it was truly an absurd and ridiculous protocol that they had,” said Christopher Pracht, an attorney representing the family.
The lawsuit claimed lifeguards were focused on beach rentals rather than water safety in 2018 when Zurihun Wolde drowned. He left behind a wife and four kids.
“The bigger part of this in the minds of my clients and our legal team, was we don’t want this to happen to somebody else,” Pracht said.
Both sides in the lawsuit are waiting on the judge to rule on some post-trial motions.
Lack’s Beach Service didn’t want to comment on the lawsuit Thursday and still has the chance to appeal.
The new beach season starts April 15 and includes new hours for lifeguard patrolling. Lifeguards will now patrol from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. rather than 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Two-man emergency response teams for each franchisee will patrol their territories from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., according to the amended agreement.
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Manny Martinez is the weekend evening anchor and a reporter at News13. Manny is from Chicago. He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in broadcast journalism. Follow Manny on Twitter and read more of his work here.