OCEAN CITY — Ocean City’s lifeguards like to call themselves the “just add water beach patrol,” because people tend to think they simply show up for the summer months to patrol the resort’s beaches.
But there’s more to it than that. In fact, Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin and Lt. Ward Kovacs are in the middle of their busiest time of the year, a full month before rescue technicians trickle into town for tourism season. Guards take to their stands the Saturday before Memorial Day, and stay through Labor Day until the day after Sunfest ends.
“People come to Ocean City in September and they see lifeguards, then they go away and when they show back up the next summer lifeguards are still there,” Arbin said. “Most people do not realize all it takes to get that guard back there in a chair.”
Arbin sent out individualized personal letters to the guards from years before who he’s decided to have back for another summer, and also to the 40 or so new guards who passed surf rescue training last August.
From his home in Charles County, where he helms the public school system’s engineering programs, Arbin collects the responses and keeps a tally of how many guards he’ll be working with, when they’ll be able to show up in town, and whether or not he needs to hire more.
“Last night I think I logged in maybe 30 or 40 responses,” Arbin said during a recent interview.
The incoming personnel provide Arbin with other information as well, like their clothing sizes, and Arbin forwards that to Kovacs, who works year-round at OCBP resort headquarters at Dorchester Street fulfilling myriad off-season tasks that include assembling the outfit packages for the 200 or so OCBP employees.
“We make sure by the time they get here their bag of stuff is ready for them to sign off on and take with them,” Kovacs said.
Kovacs’ responsibilities include getting the water and electricity turned on and otherwise de-winterizing the OCBP’s buildings throughout town, ordering new signs for lifeguard chairs and any other equipment needed — OCBP recently acquired a new personal watercraft and three new ATVs — and making sure the 120 or so lifeguard chairs are ready to go. He also coordinates with the town’s Public Works Department to get the chairs from the back out to where they need to be on the beach just before Memorial Day weekend, and making sure they’re removed just after Sunfest ends so beach visitors don’t see the chairs and assume guards will be on duty.
Another behind-the-scenes responsibility that takes on importance and a great deal of planning for Arbin are his budgeting duties. Since the fiscal year begins July 1, after all of the guards are already in town for the summer, Arbin has to plan out the number of staff he’s going to have more than a year in advance.
“In 2011 I was already working on the budget I had to start presenting in December for how the Beach Patrol is going to look in 2013,” Arbin said. “I have to hit a bullseye every year for as many people as we need, because I don’t have more in the budget.”
Ocean City spokeswoman Donna Abbott said the Beach Patrol is a very important part of the town, and the work Arbin, Kovacs and others do doesn’t go unnoticed by other town staff.
“I think the fact they’ve been here so long is a testament to how much the town means to them, and how much we have gratitude for them and the work they do,” said Abbott, referring to Arbin and Kovacs, who are beginning their 40th and 30th year with the OCBP, respectively.