On vigilant watch. On guard. On the stand. On their toes.
That is the job for a Sea Colony Beach Patrol lifeguard from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through June 16 and from Sept. 5 through Oct. 9, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from June 17 through Sept. 4.
While virtually everyone else around them on the beach is cavorting, reading, sleeping, talking or just taking in the magical salt air, the Guardians by the Sea are ready to spring into action.
Even while being cordial to those who approach the lifeguard stand, they are always on alert. Their eyes remain on the swimmers in the surf even while they are sipping and chewing for sustenance during the long beach day.
Someone’s life may be in danger.
And they are the ones who have the ability to rescue swimmers in need.
The Coastal Point is spotlighting one of these Guardians by the Sea with a beach lifeguard feature story each week during the season.
The first-year lifeguard gazed out toward the surf.
All seemed well from his perch on the Sea Colony Beach Patrol stand.
But things can change in a split second, in the surf or on the beach.
That day, it did.
Drew Meininger does not have eyes in the back of his head.
But he could sense peril behind his lifeguard stand.
“Two youngsters were throwing a football behind our stand,” recalled Meininger of the incident in 2021. “One of the kids missed the ball. It hit him in the eye, and he briefly went unconscious before reawakening in a disoriented state. That’s when I arrived.”
Meininger knew exactly what to do. Utilizing the training he’d received as an SCBP lifeguard and as an emergency medical technician (EMT), he performed a quick primary assessment and sent a message across the beach to his captain.
“Capt. Dave Griffith received the message and immediately brought the trauma bag to the stand,” recalled Meininger. “As we took the youngster’s vitals, the automatic blood pressure cuff malfunctioned. Fortunately, my training prepared me. I was able to take a manual blood pressure measurement by palpation. We continued monitoring the boy until the EMTs arrived and we transferred care. We reported everything that had happened, including the vital signs that I had measured.”
The youngster was taken to an area hospital, and he recovered.
Sea Colony Beach Patrol
The Sea Colony Beach Patrol oversees half a mile of private beach daily, from the weekend before Memorial Day to Columbus Day in October. The SCBP is a United States Lifeguard Association Advanced Certified Agency consisting of 21 guards, who are each certified in American Red Cross Lifeguard services, CPR for the Professional Rescuer and Emergency Medical Response. Each of the six lifeguard stands are located in front of the Sea Colony high-rise condominiums near Bethany Beach.
SCBP lifeguards respond to land and water emergencies, and they provide information and education about hazards in the sun, weather and ocean. SCBP beach lifeguards train daily to prepare for any situation on land or in water, and they constantly strive to exceed their high standards of open water safety.
Managing the threatening surf and his adrenaline rush
Meininger became a lifeguard out of his love for the ocean — particularly when the surf is larger and more threatening.
“I’m a thrill-seeker and an adrenaline junkie,” said Meininger, who is also a three-time world champion competitive jump-roper. “I’m also extremely competitive. When this opportunity fell into my lap, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to challenge myself as an athlete. I wanted to satisfy my hunger for adrenaline in all ocean conditions, and to become a stronger decision maker, leader and authority figure.
“This is helping me as an individual and preparing me for the future. Being a lifeguard means blocking out distractions and putting full effort into the focus and energy required to guard and save the lives of our patrons who visit our beach and swim in the ocean.”
As a lieutenant on the beach patrol, Meininger says his toughest challenge is to focus on the patrol in its entirety.
“I have to identify areas needing improvement, whether we need more training and instruction, discussions about procedure, and disciplining as needed,” he said. “I also have to determine how best to address our team members as a group or via one-on-one conversations.”
Conversely, the easiest part of the job is being disciplined in his approach, he said.
“This comes easy for me, because I understand the importance of my role on the beach,” he said. “I always strive for greatness, and do whatever it takes to improve, whether it’s during workouts or on the job. That may require extra workouts during off days or working through potential emergency scenarios with my stand partner.”
He said an emphasis on early, thorough training has made him a more effective lifeguard.
“My training has enabled me to handle situations well,” he said. “My second year, I had two rescues on my very first day working the beach that summer, and I was again well-prepared right from the outset.
“Having been promoted to lieutenant this year, I am striving to train our rookies with all of the tools and knowledge they will need to handle any scenario,” Meininger added. “They may face challenges early in the season, because trouble doesn’t wait until later in the summer, when it becomes more crowded. Our role as lifeguards becomes necessary as soon as we step onto the beach at the end of May.”
A Little help from Ben and Bailey
Meininger credits two lieutenants who trained him his rookie year on the patrol with having a profound effect on his successful lifeguard career.
“Ben Little and Bailey Noel continually pushed and encouraged me throughout the summer and even into the off-season,” said Meininger. “Although my rookie season began with very intense and intimidating training, our relationships soon grew from instructor-student to brothers. They cared for me and encouraged me in my efforts. They helped get me to a point where I was competing against them in workouts and with them at competitions. I now consider them both very close friends, even though we are in different places now.”
Noel is now a captain with the Delaware State Parks Beach Patrol, and Little recently completed Army Ranger School.
Meininger said he appreciates the camaraderie that is shared among the Sea Colony Beach Patrol.
“We are a family, and we’re loyal to each other like no other community I have experienced,” he said. “Like a family, we may bicker and butt heads, but we always have each other’s backs, and we deeply care for one another.”
Meininger said he believes this will be his final summer working full-time at the beach.
“My short-term goals are to be more successful during competitions than I have been,” he said. “My off-season training has proven to me that this is possible. I also want to serve in my new role as a lieutenant by training younger lifeguards so they can effectively handle emergencies and beach procedures, smoothly and with confidence.”
His long-term goal is to work extremely hard in physician associate school at Yale University during the next two and a half years, to become an excellent healthcare provider. He intends to return to coastal Delaware in order to serve its citizens in that role.
Article by Mike Stern, Coastal Point, June 29, 2023