EVEN as the fire brigade is set to order six rigid boats for use during flood-like situations at a cost of nearly Rs 2 crore, lifeguards stationed at various beaches in the city claim they don’t have access to most of the equipment already allotted for beach security. Apart from the common complaint of being short-staffed, many lifeguards say that equipment is provided to them only on high-tide days and on weekends during the four months of monsoon every year.
Currently, there are 11 permanent life guards with 27 additional contractual staff posted at beaches in Dadar, Versova, Juhu, Aksa and Gorai. Customarily, the equipment allotted for beach safety includes jet-skis, semi-inflatable boats, ring buoys, surf rescue boats, spine boats, rescue tubes, rechargeable batteries and ropes. However, several lifeguards at Juhu and Versova beach said that they only have access to life jackets, ring buoys and ropes.
Manohar Shetty, who has served as a lifeguard for 27 years, said, “We have a rescue tube, a pair of binoculars, life safety jackets and ring buoys. We have not used the semi-inflatable boats yet, and the jet skis are kept with the fire brigade.” “They are available to us only on high-tide days and on weekends only between June and September.” Another lifeguard who has been posted at the Juhu beach for the past four years said they often have to jump into the water without any equipment. “The Juhu beach is the busiest and is 4.5 km long. We have two shifts and at a time, there are only two-three lifeguards to keep an eye on the entire beach. If there is more than one case of people drowning, the situation becomes very bad, since there are only two lifejackets. They are not effective in times of high tide,” he said.
“Jet skis should be available to us during the monsoon since it takes half an hour to reach the beach in times of emergency,” he added. The lifeguard also said that there are 8-9 gates and at least one person needs to be stationed near each during busy days. He also pointed out that no ambulance is available near the beaches. “After a rescue, people sometimes have to be taken to the hospital, but there are no ambulances available for them. We have to take them in autorickshaws and drivers are often reluctant to take them out of fear of getting involved with the police. Delays can cost a life,” he added.
Reiterating the need for more life guards, 23-year-old Viraj Foka, a lifeguard at the Versova beach for the past five years, said, “We have two gates for the 3-km long beach and for each shift, there are only three people. Owing to the shortage of staff, we have to shut one gate on busy days, so that we can keep an eye on everyone.” While inflatable rubber rescue boats for use during floods and in lakes were purchased by the fire brigade back in 2006, a year after the monsoon flood in Mumbai, the semi-inflatable boats were purchased just two years ago. Chief fire officer P Rahangdale said the fire brigade will purchase six rigid boats, which will be made of a high-density plastic.
Fire department officials said the new boats are expected to arrive in the next two months. Another official said that a global tender will be floated in the next 15 days. “The inflatable rubber boats which were purchased in 2006 have been used in training and for rescue operations in lakes in the city. They are worn out and we need new ones.” “The new boats are an upgraded model and can function on multiple types of fuel, unlike the inflatable rubber boats which only run on petrol. These boats will be more suitable in harsh weather conditions and can be used for both beach safety as well as flood rescue operations,” said the official.
Justifying the storage of the jet skis among other equipment at the fire brigade, a senior civic official from the fire department said, “The lifeguards are given only basic equipment since there is no storage facility near the beaches.” “Apart from high-tide days, the remaining equipment is provided to them every second and fourth Saturday, on Sundays and public holidays. We also deploy a flood rescue team for additional help to them.”
According to the flood preparedness report released this year, between June and September, there is a prediction of 18 days of high tide, where the waves are expected to be higher than 4.5 metres. Most of these days are in June and July. While the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted heavy rain this year, the highest wave of the season — 4.97 metres high — is expected to hit the city as early as June 25.