Trained safety supervisors will be hired this summer to watch over the territorial park where a young boy drowned last year in Yellowknife, according to the responsible minister.
Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ramsay told The Journal last week that there will be “eyes and ears on the beach” at Fred Henne park on Long Lake this summer, regardless of whether those are fully-fledged lifeguards or waterfront attendants trained in first aid and shallow water rescue.
“I’ve made a commitment to get some supervision on that beach this summer, but what form or shape that takes remains to be seen,” he said.
The department is currently putting together a request for proposals (RFP) that will gauge what kinds of services are out there to hire for the beach patrol, from lifeguard services – either full-time or weekend/holidays – to waterfront attendants.
“We’re going to go to the marketplace and see what we come up with and see if there’s any companies out there who would be willing to provide that kind of service at the beach,” he said.
The move follows a report from the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and the NWT, which did an audit of the beach safety after 7 year-old Lodune Shelley drowned at the unsupervised lake last summer.
The report recommends increasing the safety level of the beach from a Level 2 to a Level 7. Employing lifeguard supervision would bring the rating up to a Level 8, but only after all other safety measures are implemented first, including improved signage and the use of the new lifejacket loaner station.
Increased supervision on the beach will not only help increase the protection of swimmers in the water, but could also improve the safety of the beach as a whole, Ramsay said.
“Even with waterfront attendants, they could certainly be watchful for children who are left unattended, people on the beach with alcohol or drugs. They could really help ensure the safety of that beach,” he said.
“They don’t necessarily need to be lifeguards. We are going to do our best to find lifeguards, but at the end of the day, we want to ensure that beach is safe and that people can use the beach.”
One issue that could arise with employing certified lifeguards is a limit on how many people will be allowed on the beach at once.
“According to national standards and guidelines, a lifeguard can only supervise up to 40 people at one time, and of course on a busy summer afternoon, you could have 7-800 people on that beach, so we would have to be turning people away,” Ramsay said.
“There’s a lot of things we have to grapple with when making a decision on what type of supervision we’re going to have on the beach.”
While Ramsay said the issue is not about money, there are significant cost differences among supervisory options. Employing lifeguards would likely cost around $230,000, he said, whereas waterfront attendants would cost around $70,000.
He said the RFP will likely be out in the next couple of weeks.
“The one thing I do want to make clear is there will be supervision of some kind on that beach this summer,” he said. “That’s a commitment I’ve made and one I’m going to keep.”