Near Drowning Leads to Call for More Guards

    A near drowning that occurred Sunday in front of the Driftwood Motel on Napeague underscored what East Hampton Town lifeguards and ocean rescue volunteers say is a dangerous gap in their ability to protect the public.
    The gap stretches from Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett to Montauk, about 12 miles of unprotected beach, in the opinion of John McGeehan, assistant chief of the East Hampton Town Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad.
    Mr. McGeehan said he would like to see at least a guard tower, communications, first aid, and lifesaving equipment in the area near the Driftwood Motel, at the halfway point between Amagansett and Montauk.
    But Diane McNally, the East Hampton Town Trustees’ presiding officer, disagreed, saying on Tuesday that the town code clearly stated that those who swim in the ocean off Napeague do so at their own risk.
    “The town would be taking on a huge responsibility to manage the Napeague stretch. Technically, whoever patrols it should tell people to come out of the water,” Ms. McNally said. The trustees own and manage most of East Hampton’s beaches — except in Montauk — on behalf of the public.
    The ocean rescue squad got the call at 3:07 p.m. on Sunday. One rescue Jet Ski was launched from Montauk, and two others headed to the scene from Amagansett. By the time rescuers got there, Nicola Devito, 42, was being revived by emergency medical technicians from Amagansett. Initially, an employee of the Driftwood Motel administered C.P.R. after two men, Perry Halburd and Jean Carlos Barrientos, noticed that Mr. Devito was in trouble and pulled him to shore.
    Mr. Barrientos is a student at East Hampton High School. On Monday at the high school he received special acknowledgement for his heroism. He took part in the town’s junior lifeguard program.
    The motels on Napeague do not station lifeguards. They are not required to under protocols set by the Suffolk Health Department. If they were, they would have to follow the guidelines of that department, which maintains legal oversight over town lifeguards.
    The county sets the standards for such things as the distance between lifeguard stands, types of lifesaving equipment, age of lifeguards, signs, and warning flags. And, the county defines what is a bathing beach. The definition includes a requirement for both parking and restrooms.
    In Ms. McNally’s opinion, even if the town could get the county to wave the parking and restroom requirements, the presence of a town lifeguard stand would contradict the existing town code, which states that swimming at unguarded beaches is done at the swimmers’ own risk. Because they were not required to post guards, the motels were able to take advantage of a public resource while accepting no liability, she said.
    In her opinion, a guard stand would automatically make the town liable for a drowning. “I understand the potential tragedy, but the town would be taking on a huge responsibility.”
    “That’s an interesting point,” Mr. McGeehan said, going on to suggest that there was nothing to stop relatives of a drowning victim from suing the beach owner. “Look at what we’re saying: We know people are swimming there. We know the ocean will turn deadly, and we know we could assist people with a minimum of expenditure, but we choose not to because we could be held liable.”
    “Look at these beaches,” he said. “They are the same beaches, but the population is increasing. They are no longer desolate. If it continues that way, someone else will drown out there. We lost the woman two years ago, and the gentleman the other day was extremely luck. He was brought back from death.”
    Mr. McGeehan added that while a new emergency lane made close to the dunes between the Atlantic Terrace Motel to the east and the Oceanside Motel on the west helped with access for emergency vehicles, the addition of a guard stand on the crowded beach in front of “motel row” in the same area was much needed. “It’s jammed there like Jones Beach.”
    Mr. Devito was taken to Southampton Hospital, treated overnight, and released on Monday.
    Mr. Devito was taken to Southampton Hospital, treated overnight, and released on Monday.


what ever happened to "swim at your own risk" signs... people are stupid.. i'm not surprised amagansett has something else to spend their money on ... pura vida!
Watch for typos, EH Star ;)
Both sides of the argument have merit. You can't partially protect or half patrol the beaches. If you do it, you do it right. Otherwise its worse - you lull bathers into a sense of security and open yourself up to liability. That is actually worse than no protection at all. The hotels along the stretch should be included in the discussion. They are profiting from access to and use of Trustee property. Could the Town Board and Trustees compel the owners Dune Management to foot the bill for lifeguard coverage? This is a resort community and people come here for the beaches. What if the hotel owners were given a choice between clearly stating in their advertising and on their websites that there is "No Beach Access" or paying for guards and equipment? I believe they would pay for the coverage given that choice. The Trustees are all about access, the ocean guards are all about safety. The two are actually on the same side of the argument. The hotels are good at running a profitable business. If the hotels were able to claim protected beach access the investment might pay for itself. Gurneys has their own guards and that seems to work.