State must do more to provide lifeguards

It is the state's job, not Beaufort County's, to pay for lifeguards at Hunting Island State Park.

newsroom@islandpacket.comMay 28, 2014 

It's good news that South Carolina's most popular state park on Hunting Island may soon be less dangerous.

The S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and Beaufort County have agreed to split the cost of nine lifeguards to work three lifeguard stations this coming summer.

Six people have drowned in the past four years at the popular oceanfront park 18 miles from Beaufort. No lifeguard service has been provided since 1998. When three people drowned in one day last July, the public demanded more.

The response was slow in the making. PRT said it would add lifeguards, but only pay half the cost.

The Beaufort County Legislative Delegation was tasked with finding the other half of the money. A state budget proviso they introduced failed.

That's when Beaufort County was asked to chip in. On Tuesday, a County Council committee agreed to pay the other half. County leaders should be applauded for taking steps to potentially save lives.

But providing lifeguards is ultimately not a county function. PRT should have taken on the project earlier, and paid for it in full from the profits it makes at the state's most popular park.

PRT did start advertising the jobs in April. It filled one full-time position, but the person hired did not have the necessary certification. The agency eventually hired a part-time lifeguard to start work in June.

Filling the jobs has been a problem previously. PRT has said since the lifeguard program ended in 1998 that it does not get enough applicants for the jobs. What that tells us is that new tactics are required to fill the jobs. The agency may need to up the pay scale from the $9- to $13-per-hour it currently offers. And it needs to start seeking applicants earlier than it did this year.

Lifeguard service should not be seen as an extra, or a local problem. Full lifeguard service should be funded by the state in a state park known for dangerous rip currents.

Now is the time for the public, local schools and public safety organizations to do all they can to encourage lifeguard applicants for this year, and next.

Progress for this year also includes a new flag system, which was needed. Flags of different colors on the beach now indicate to swimmers the degree of hazard present.

We're pleased lifeguards will keep watch over swimmers this summer.

But the state needs to do more and be better prepared for 2015.

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