Let’s start with this: No one came out of last week’s lifeguard walkout covered in glory. There have already been plenty of accusations tossed around as to who was to blame for what could have turned in to a dangerous situation. Rather than point fingers, let’s figure out how to keep it from happening again.
For those of you who rode out last week’s heat wave indoors, here’s the background: Two veteran lifeguards were fired last month after they were found to be jumping off the Good Harbor Beach footbridge, an inherently dangerous activity that is against city policy. After learning of the firing, the rest of the Gloucester’s almost 30 lifeguards walked off the job, forcing the city to use EMTs in their place. After a tense meeting with city officials, the senior guards’ firing was reduced to a suspension, and the rest of the lifeguards returned to work.
“This isn’t a win for anyone,” Department of Public Works Director Mike Hale told Ray Lamont last week. “It’s been a learning experience for the staff involved, and it’s certainly been a learning experience in terms of management as well.”
So what can we take from this learning experience?
First and foremost, the city was well within its rights to fire the two senior lifeguards, who have years of experience on the city’s beaches and certainly knew it was against the rules to jump from the footbridge. They failed in their duty to keep the beaches safe, and they failed as leaders of their younger colleagues. They should be grateful city officials ultimately reduced their firing to a suspension.
And while there is something to be said for sticking up for your colleagues, the lifeguards staging the sickout put beachgoers at risk. A lifeguard post is different from other summertime jobs. You’re not scooping ice cream, removing trash from the Boulevard or parking cars at Wingaersheek; you’re responsible for keeping people safe. If you’re serious about that responsibility, you don’t willingly leave the beaches — and their patrons — unprotected.
Meanwhile, the city needs to do a better job managing its summer workers. And by managing, we mean not just directing, but leading and teaching. Too often, part-time summer workers are treated as anonymous afterthoughts — names to plug into a schedule rather than resources to be developed or people to be listened to.
Finally, there may be some work here for the City Council. It was noted that while jumping off the Good Harbor footbridge is against city policy, it’s not in the city ordinances. Maybe putting a series of fines behind the ban would help it stick.
If nothing else, it would make the city’s expectations for beachgoers — and the lifeguards who protect them — crystal clear.