Walton County has once again selected the South Walton Fire District to provide beach lifeguards. The Walton Commissioners agreed to the slightly higher rate, even though other bidders came in cheaper. The $769,000 contract includes operating nine lifeguard stations.
TDC Director Dawn Moliterno told the commissioners SWFD was selected due to their ability to provide surf trained guards. The Tourist Development Council and the Commissioners felt the surf trained lifeguards were important in deciding on the contract.
The contract costs also provide for a new position, an assistant Beach Safety Coordinator who will help supplement the growing duties of the Gary Wise. The contract also provides for an additional ATV, fuel and insurance. The SWFD will provide a detailed audit report for the additional costs to make sure the amount charged is only to cover the need for the equipment’s operation.
Commissioner Sara Comander said, once in the past, she had lifeguard training and understands the difference between a pool lifeguard and one who can navigate the surf. The program was put into place after a series of drownings. The lifeguard program also works with the Walton Sheriff’s Office, the EMS and Fire responders and a beach safety education program. Education includes the flag system, materials provided at bed tax destinations and marketing of beach safety.
While some have questioned the cost to provide lifeguards over spending the money on education, the overall approach has been reported to have lowered the number of drownings. Drownings now usually occur at locations with no lifeguards or at times when guards are not present. Other coastal communities have started or are looking into beach lifeguards.