ROTARY CLUB TO THE RESCUE: Cocoa Beach is Ground Zero for Drown Zero Project
By Donna Anselmo // May 30, 2019
at 42 beach access points along cocoa beach's 6.2 miles of coastline
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – When rip tides pull unsuspecting beachgoers from shore, a fun day at the beach turns deadly.
To prevent drownings, the Cocoa Beach Rotary Club recently launched its Drown Zero project and partnered with the City of Cocoa Beach to install orange flotation rings on stations at 42 beach access points along the city’s 6.2 miles of coastline.
The program already has saved lives.
After 10 drownings were recorded in 2007 alone, Forbes magazine had declared Brevard County, FL, the nation’s most dangerous beach area. Stretching along 72 miles of oceanfront, Brevard County boasted 210 beaches.
Only 13 of those beaches were patrolled by lifeguards. Later that year, the county-funded three year-round lifeguard stations, 25 seasonal towers, and eight year-round lifeguards.
Brevard County Ocean Rescue Chief Eisen Witcher said the county now maintains five year-round and 20 seasonal stations, as well as 17 full-time and 100 seasonal lifeguards.
“Lifeguards are only on duty between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” said Rotary Club President Wyatt Werneth, a retired ocean rescue chief and full-time lifeguard.
“But many beachgoers come early and stay late, swimming at their own risk. It’s important for people to be able to make rescues without drowning themselves.”
City Manager Jim McKnight agrees. Given budget constraints, Drown Zero stations provide an option.
“Now, if [a swimmer] is in distress, a person on the beach will have an opportunity to throw a float rather than try to swim out. The flotation devices are designed to supplement the role of lifeguards,” he said.
In 2017, Werneth introduced the Drown Zero concept to the Cocoa Beach Rotary Club, which helped sponsor the first generation of Drown Zero stations. Unfortunately, most of the early stations were destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
This year, with design enhancements, the help of city officials, and labor provided by the Department of Public Works, new stations constructed by Entech Innovations were installed.
On April 24, the new Drown Zero rescue ring located at 4th Street South was used by local citizens.
“The at-risk swimmer was out of the water and doing okay before the lifeguards arrived, thanks to an available boogie board and the Drown Zero flotation device,” Werneth said.
That same day, a Drown Zero flotation device also was available to Good Samaritans, when rough surf necessitated more than 40 documented rescues by lifeguards. Two additional rescues were made by citizens near Tulip Lane, a cross-over location currently unpatrolled by lifeguards.
“We still need a lifeguard tower on the beach at Tulip Lane because we’ve had multiple drownings in that location. Former lifeguard Jerry Storrs, who is memorialized on the Tulip Lane Drown Zero station, personally made more than 70 undocumented rescues at that location,” said Werneth.
Werneth went on to say, “We’ve already had three drownings in the county in 2019. But, due to inconsistencies in drowning definitions, drowning is not always recorded as the cause of death.
“I personally witnessed 48 drownings in my tenure as lifeguard chief, and each one sticks with me. The majority of drownings occur when someone attempts to go in and save a swimmer in distress, without a flotation device. This lifesaving concept is being used on beaches all over the world with great success.”
Bob Mahler, former president of Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association, said, “Every beach should have a lifeguard system in place. The chance of drownings in range of a lifeguard stand is only 1 in 18 million. Drown Zero devices are not meant to replace lifeguards.
But human nature is that if someone yells for help, untrained people will go into the water,” Mahler added. “If they do, they at least would have a flotation device to prevent their own drowning while waiting for a professional rescuer.”
To prevent drownings by well-meaning, but inexperienced rescuers, Drown Zero advises the public to “Throw, Don’t Go,” to keep eyes on the swimmer in distress, and to call 9-1-1 for help.
“We’re thrilled to be able to save help lives,” said Brenda Mulberry, past president of Cocoa Beach Rotary Club and owner of Space Shirts in Merritt Island.
Space Shirts was among the first businesses to “adopt” a Drown Zero station. Coconuts on the Beach, which serves as “Providing Sponsor” of Drown Zero, donated funds to build the initial Drown Zero stations. Since then, 14 of 28 current stations have been adopted by local businesses.
“Drown Zero stations run from 15 Street South to one block north of the Cocoa Beach Pier,” said John Alexander, Rotary Club past president and the group’s liaison with the City.
“It costs very little to adopt a station for a year,” added Mulberry.
“Adoptions help us build and maintain stations and support our Rotary Club’s community service initiatives. They also give local people and businesses the opportunity to feel good about doing good work.”
CLICK HERE for more information about adopting a Drown Zero station, or contact Wyatt Werneth at 321-704-0151.
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