Safe This Summer: Beach lifeguards staying busy as firefighters warn against digging in the sand

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Posted at 7:59 AM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 08:10:51-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - On any given morning at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, don't be surprised to see lifeguards training, working to keep up their skills.

Tom Gill, Chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service, which provides the city's lifeguards, says you can never be too ready in a life and death situation.

So far this year, those situations have been plenty.

Gill says in the last few weeks alone, 150 people have been rescued from Oceanfront waters. He expects 2021 rescue numbers to blow past the 300 rescues through the entire 2020 summer season.

Rip currents and how they pull people out into the ocean are always a big concern for lifeguards. Gill says in those situations it's important to not panic and to try and float. Use your arms and, if possible, your voice to get people's attention.

There's also another issue that's popped up in recent years.

"Spinal cord injuries. We have seen a lot more of those in the past year or two and we just want people to be safe," said Gill. "Run into that water, keep your feet under you, keep your head up and don't dive in because you never know where that next sandbar is going to be."

And speaking of sand, there's another potential hazard that beach officials want visitors to watch out for.

Digging holes in the sand might seem innocent, but if a hole is deep enough and collapses onto a person, it's extremely difficult to escape. Incidents of collapse have been known to kill people.

That's because one cubic foot of sand weighs over 100 pounds and a collapse would make it impossible to breathe.

The Virginia Beach Fire Department's Technical Rescue team has the equipment to try and dig a person out of the sand, but they would have to move quickly.

"It's not that much sand that you put on top of you and it can prevent you from trying to breathe. When you dig those deep holes, it's kind of recommended that you only dig it as deep as the height of someone's knee," said Dave Mauch, a Master Firefighter with Rescue 2.

Mauch tells News 3 the hole should be as deep as the knee of the smallest person with you at the beach.