Local crew now members of U.S. Lifesaving Association
By Max Sullivan
Hampton Union, July 11, 2014
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON BEACH — Hampton Beach lifeguards have long been considered one of the fittest, most athletic squads in all of New England and now they have the national recognition to back up those claims.
Jimmy Donahue, who has been chief of the guards since 1975, said the squad is now a certified agency with the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA).
The certification not only shows that Donahue's group is meeting a high standard of excellence, but it also means that, rather than having lifeguards trained by the Red Cross, Donahue's lifeguard crew can train in-house.
"We've really gotten upgraded and recognized as being a leading lifeguarding beach," Donahue said.
The milestone, said 18-year veteran lifeguard Dan Ryan, has a lot to do with the passion that Donahue has for his work.
"Jimmy (Donahue) has set forth standards over the years which I believe has led to the (Hampton Beach Lifeguards) becoming the beach patrol it is today," Ryan said. "Without Jimmy, I don't believe we would have evolved to this step."
When Donahue first looked into having the Hampton Beach Lifeguards join the USLA 10 years ago, it wasn't a logistical reality.
But having been a lifeguard since 1959, then just a teenager, Donahue had seen similar obstacles. He recalled, that in 1960, when lifeguards were controlled by the town of Hampton rather than the state, there were only 11 lifeguards on the roster.
"There would be a guard every half mile," Donahue said. "It was not good."
When Donahue took over as chief 15 years later, he helped expand the program so that today there are now 40 full-time lifeguards, five part-time lifeguards, three beach-roving vehicles and a jet ski.
Last summer, the USLA started to send representatives to look at the Hampton Beach operation. Donahue said that by the second or third visit, the representatives told Donahue that Hampton Beach was a "shoo-in" for certification.
In particular, the Hampton Beach lifeguards impressed the representatives with their training regiment.
Donahue holds his lifeguards to even higher standards than the USLA.
The average lifeguard swims 500 yards in about eight minutes, the chief said. With the running and swimming that the Hampton Beach lifeguards go through each morning before their shifts, they can do it in about six. Seeing this, the representatives were convinced that Hampton Beach would undoubtedly become a new USLA chapter.
When asked about his work, Ryan said there is a lot more to lifeguarding than beachgoers realize.
In addition to looking out for rip currents by sight and being a proficient swimmer, he needs to keep an eye on the people playing and relaxing on the beach. Ryan said helping those with heat exhaustion and lost children are among the many problems lifeguards face daily.
When asked how often new recruits apply for the job just looking for a tan and a good time, he smiled, saying he's seen it here and there.
"That has happened," Ryan said. "But they learn very quickly and will often find other means of employment. This isn't for everybody."