MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Myrtle Beach’s lifeguards not only watch the water, but they also help people rent umbrellas – a dual role some people view as an unsafe practice.
“This beach needs to change so that water safety is the No. 1 and only priority of these lifeguards,” says Jim Defeo, who is concerned about the lifeguard agreement.
The City of Myrtle Beach has a franchise agreement with three companies: Lack’s Beach Service, Central Beach Service, and John’s Beach Service. The agreement allows these companies to operate lifeguard services and concessions on the beach. They also provide the lifeguard equipment needed for water safety.
“I’m unaware of any other community in the U.S. that assigns their lifeguards to both rentals and public safety.”USLA Chair Chris Brewster
Because of this agreement, those lifeguard companies are not certified through the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA).
“The United States Lifesaving Association sets the only national standard for surf lifeguarding in the United States,” says Chris Brewster, chair of the National Certification Committee USLA. “No other entity sets those standards.”
For years, the USLA has recommended the city change its practices. Brewster says they will not certify a lifeguard agency if it is assigned to anything other than public safety.
“It’s a very unusual practice in the united states,” Brewster says. “I’m unaware of any other community in the U.S. that assigns their lifeguards to both rentals and public safety.”
The USLA is a nonprofit that certifies more than 150 public and private agencies. The USLA says the certification process has an emphasis on rescue efforts.
John’s Beach Services is among the companies not certified. “We’ve been doing this a long time and, yeah, the USLA accreditation is nice but they’re not the supreme authority,” said Nick Jackson, general manager of John’s Beach Service. “I’m not going to say it doesn’t affect us.”
The franchise agreement calls for “lifeguard onlys” or LGO, whose sole responsibility is to watch the shore. The city requires one LGO for every six stands. Jackson says they have one for every three stands, double the amount the city asks.
“It’s money coming out of our pocket,” Jackson says. “Those guys aren’t generating any income, but it makes me sleep better at night because water supervision is paramount.”
When it comes to training, Jackson says it’s extensive. The city requires a swim test similar to that of the USLA. Jackson said he also makes lifeguards pass the test again in front of a Myrtle Beach ocean rescue official, which is a USLA certified agency.
“Just because we don’t get their stamp of approval, doesn’t mean anything less in my eyes,” Jackson said. “I take pride in this operation and I’m not going to put anyone out there that I don’t feel is up to the task of saving anyone’s life.”
The city has waived some franchise fees so they could add more lifeguard personnel. The three franchise companies brought in zero dollars in the past two years. Before that, they brought in fewer than $100,000.
Ending the dual role could mean a large upfront cost, something the City of North Myrtle Beach believes is worth it. North Myrtle Beach ended its franchise agreement years ago.
“Our vacation population started to increase and we began to notice the safety might begin to suffer,” said Pat Dowling, spokesperson for the City of North Myrtle Beach.
North Myrtle Beach has a Beach Services Division as part of their Park and Recreation Department that rents the chairs and does concessions. Dowling says it cost a couple of million dollars so their lifeguards could focus solely on the water.
But in Myrtle Beach, the dual role won’t be ending anytime soon. The franchise agreement lasts until 2025.
News13 reached out to the other two franchise companies but has not heard back.