The near-drowning of a Brooklyn man Sunday afternoon in the ocean on Napeague points to a glaring public safety failure. Each weekend in the summer season, many of the thousands of residents and visitors who take bracing plunges do not understand either the danger of the tumbling waters or that the nearest lifeguards are stationed several miles away.
It was just luck that two bystanders were able to pull Nicholas DeVito, 42, from almost-certain death on Sunday and that someone on the beach knew how to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation before ambulance personnel, town police, and members of the volunteer ocean rescue squad were able to get there. This story has a happy ending; Mr. DeVito is said to have recovered and to be doing well. For others, like a mother who drowned off Beach Hampton in 2010, the outcome has been tragic. In our recollection, by contrast, there never has been a drowning in East Hampton Town at a beach where lifeguards were on duty.
Each year, thousands of people flock to the South Fork. Many stay at the resorts on Napeague and in downtown Montauk, where they are drawn by the pull of the sea. For what appear to be complex — but unfortunate — reasons, the owners of many of these hostelries provide beach towels, lounge chairs, and other amenities, but fail to fully provide for their guests’ safety. The moment may have come for lawmakers to force most, if not all, oceanfront resort and residential property associations to post lifeguards of their own. Alternatively, the town could establish mechanisms such as dedicated taxing districts so that the town itself can do so.
East Hampton Town, by allowing the motels, condominimum complexes, and resorts to be built in the first place, and then greenlighting their expansion and improvement, has an implicit responsibility to assure the safety of those who occupy them. The ocean rescue squad, which provides a tremendous service at nearly no cost to the community, has begun to quietly ask that stations be established to close the gaps between protected bathing areas. This request is one that should be acted on without delay. There is no substitute for a rapid and well-trained response when a swimmer is in distress.