To the editor:
I’m a former head lifeguard for Gloucester. The recent firing of two head guards is a recent example of the troubling way in which the Public Works Department has handled issues with the lifeguards over the past few years.
The DPW was made aware of this incident, during which these guards were off duty, by a single angry patron. After one phone call, the DPW fired its two most veteran guards, and I don’t believe that the risk that this now presents to beach safety was even considered in the process. Another salient example was when, during my time, the DPW responded to patron complaints about beach tents consuming too much space by making the lifeguards police them, which required us to look in the opposite direction of the water and reduced the number of guards ready to respond to emergencies and enforce safety rules.
This job is held by adolescents and young adults, and is thus prone to having its share of unprofessional moments, especially at the end of an 8-hour shift in 90-degree weather without a break. Having worked on that staff for the better part of the past decade, I can say that beach safety, the essence of the job, has always been taken very seriously, without exception. We have not been in the news for safety concerns because we have consistently prevented and responded effectively to beach emergencies. When situations happen that don’t compromise safety, our staff deserves to be granted room to learn from our mistakes.
Editor’s note: After this letter was submitted, the city of Gloucester reduced the firing of the lifeguard supervisors to a suspension, and the lifeguards who staged a sickout have returned to work.