Skip to main content

More than 90 of the state’s professional lifeguards packed Wanda SLSC on 17 May to showcase and share technical advances in ocean safety and lifeguard operations.

Hosted by Sutherland Shire Council, 16 lifeguard services attended including the state’s largest service provider, the Australian Lifeguard Service (ALS), Waverley guards from Bondi Rescue fame and council lifeguards from other metro and regional coastal councils.

“Our number one priority is to save lives,” said Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce who was thrilled to host the state’s largest gathering of leading beach safety professionals.

Sutherland Shire Lifeguard Manager Brett Richardson initiated the event to help share the achievements of his team and learn from other professionals throughout the state.

“For all of us, this is about collaboration,” said Richardson. “We’re all land managers or service providers and we’re all trying to manage risk, learning from each other to make our beaches safer.”

Richardson used the example of the recent mass rescue in February at Cronulla when 40 people’s lives were saved thanks to the collaborative efforts of the lifeguards and all four Bate Bay Surf Life Saving clubs.

“We’re incredibly proud of the success of the rescue,” he said. “It shows the strength of the relationship between the volunteer lifesavers and our professional lifeguards to save lives. We all speak the same language and we’re all here for the same reason, that is to make sure everyone goes home safely.”

Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce echoed the message, “Nobody died that day because everyone came together and worked together so seamlessly. That’s the power of collaborative relationships we have here in the Sutherland Shire.”

Brett Richardson commented on the increasing beach use from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities in the Sutherland Shire and the need to expand and innovate in the area of beach safety communication.

“Our local population is expected to increase between 50-60,000 people over the next few years,” said Richardson. “To ensure we reach the CALD community we’ve begun working with TAFE NSW and migrant centres to teach people beach safety at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Other speakers presented on the success of various technology trials like the introduction of drones for beach surveillance, enhanced CCTV cameras and Emergency Response Beacons to better protect the public.

Lake Macquarie Lifeguard Paul Stone spoke about the Smart Beaches initiative between the Northern Beaches Council and Lake Macquarie City Council, which is rolling out high-tech methods of collecting beach attendance and other data designed to protect increasing populations accessing the coast.

NSW Police Force Deputy Commissioner and NSW State Emergency Operations Controller Jeff Loy addressed the group on the importance of all services working together, but also understanding their limits and assessing risks.

The Deputy Commissioner acknowledged the respect lifeguards enjoy from beach-goers, “People respect the uniform and (the lifeguards) experience on the beach. They train to make good decisions, take action and save lives and have a great deal of respect from the Police Force.”

Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steven Pearce spoke to the group about the significance of sharing knowledge, skills and opportunities. “As our coastal population increases it’s important to acknowledge that not one individual organisation is responsible for looking after people on the beach. That’s what today is about, sharing information and seeing what new technologies could help us save more lives.”

It wasn’t only the relationships between services that was a focus, Lucy Brogden, Chair of the National Mental Health Commission provided a session focusing on mental health and well-being in the workplace. With lifeguards being the first responders to hundreds of critical incidents including drownings on our beaches each year, emotional and psychological support is integral to their welfare.

The presentation was well received as she highlighted signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and how to compassionately support colleagues, friends and family who are affected by traumatic incidents.

With more than 350 lifeguards employed in NSW by the Australian Lifeguard Service, Chief Operating Officer Dan Gaffney said that mental health was a key pillar for the ALS to focus on in future.

“Our professional lifeguards are incredible in emergency situations but the seriousness of being exposed to these situations can also take its toll and have serious impacts on their mental health. It means we all need to be suitably equipped to manage the psychological effects from dealing with these emergencies. It’s something we can’t afford to overlook,” said Gaffney.

The success of the forum will be used as a springboard for greater collaboration and sharing of information and resources between lifeguard services and also with Surf Life Saving.


Friday 24 May 2019