No lifeguards, no swimming, no joke.
That’s the message Nassau County officials hope to send to children in Long Island and New York City public schools who visit the ocean beaches before lifeguards are on duty for the summer season.
The city of Long Beach—a popular seaside community of New York City residents because its short distance from the Long Island Rail Road—began filming a public service announcement video in September to educate children about the dangers of swimming when lifeguards are off duty.
The beach is scheduled to open full-time on June 18, officials said, about one week earlier than usual to try to prevent preseason drownings like last year.
“With the summer season brings a lot of summer fun and beach fun, but it also brings dangers and our message is simple and clear. No lifeguard, no swimming, no joke,” said Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.
During a school field trip last June, 12-year-old Nicole Suriel from Columbia Second School for Math, Science and Engineering in Harlem, drowned in Long Beach during the preseason, with no lifeguards on duty.
The New York City school teacher who chaperoned the trip was fired after an investigation found that parents never signed permission slips for the June 22 trip to Long Beach, and the teacher, Erin Bailey, never noticed the “No lifeguard on duty” sign.
“With every tragic drowning, I would always be asked ‘what can we do better to prevent this from happening?’” Long Beach City Manager Charles Theofan said in response to questions concerning preseason and after-hour drownings.
“And we are doing everything right here,” he said, “but I always felt we can do better in getting the word out as to the dangers of swimming when lifeguards weren’t on duty.”
The film, produced by Vision of One, was sent to local school officials as well as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the New York City Department of Education in an attempt to get the message out, especially to inner-city children, who officials say, may not be accustomed to the dangers of rip currents.
In response to Suriel’s tragic death, Theofan said, Long Beach officials wanted to be proactive, so they created the nine-minute public service announcement to warn young people.
“It was our hope that the school system would embrace it and show it,” Theofan said. “And like I’ve said, it’s been our mantra that ‘if it only saves one life, it would be worth the effort.’”
Theofan said the city has written to all three chancellors since the video was completed, and the response was: “they thanked us for the resource, but they have no present plants to use it.”
“That’s tragic,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the NYC Department of Education said they are strengthening regulations around school trips, and “with regard to the PSA, we are reviewing it.”
“That’s where we have most of our problems, from people coming down here after hours,” said Paul Gillespie, chief of Long Beach lifeguard patrol, referencing inner-city children. “These people that come down here, if they watch this tape it will be a really eye-opening situation for them.”
Gillespie said five people have died off hours in the last six years, including Suriel.
“If you come down here,” he said, “and think you’re going to master the ocean and not be able to swim, it’s not a good situation.”
Liz Byrne, one of the producers of the video, and a Long Beach resident, said Vision of One was in conversation with Long Beach officials a year ago concerning the project.
She called the video the “perfect project” for Long Beach and focused the piece on children from the five boroughs of New York City.
“It is typical, unfortunately, that it’s young adults that come out from Brooklyn, Queens the Bronx, Manhattan, that come to the city in the offseason,” she said. “The weather is warm, and the water looks inviting, and they go in, and tragically lose their lives, almost every year.”
Byrne said she hopes the message gets out through the video and helps prevent drowning’s this year.
“The sound of helicopters going overhead means they’re looking for somebody,” she said, “and its tragic.”