THE rules of engagement have changed amid the pandemic and so has work for Goa tourism’s most visible essential service — the lifeguards spread across its 38 beaches. While they initially went into waters “without a thought” with “rescue memory”, new protocols are now in place.
With Goa opening 250 hotels this month, the first change was the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the routine Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) protocol for drowning rescues. “It’s a direct switch now to Bag Valve Mask (BVM),” said Ravi Shankar, Executive Director of Drishti Marine, a state-appointed private beach management agency hired by the Goa Tourism Ministry manning the state’s western coast. “Otherwise it was clearing airways to avoid sand choking, start CPR and move to BVM only if mouth-to-mouth resuscitation cannot be continued.”
A rescue still involves a “lot of physical contact” which cannot be avoided, but a complete new protocol has been designed, according to Shankar.
As per WHO guidelines and advice from Australian counterparts, two lifeguards tug the person to safety and the “support team waiting at shore with spine board and equipment wear mask and gloves as they use BVM,” Shankar said.
Distancing norms have forced through many changes in the lifeguard’s inventory, including pocket masks used earlier to breath air into the lungs of a victim.
The beaches have continued to see visitors, from the fisherfolk to the usual “exercise people” who refused to wear masks, according to lifeguards who spent initial days of the lockdown monitoring thousands of stewards, cooks and waiters left to fend for themselves as the shacks shut without notice, with the initial rescues being of stranded migrants.
Many lifeguards living in the border villages of Karnataka and Maharashtra were unable to reach their post amid the lockdown.
Shashikant Jadhav (33), a lifeguard and manager at Drishti Marine, recalled days spent next to a phone, instead of the roaring monsoon ocean, calling his colleagues to join work — the agency is still short of 150 lifeguards. “Dropouts were rough, around 70 refused to join out of pure fear. Their families were convinced their men would contract the infection,” said Jadhav.
Lifeguard and trainer Ashwin Ghag (38) recalled how the “beach regulars like cricket or frisbee teams without masks” left many lifeguards unwilling to climb down the watchtower as they feared infection. “These little details play on the rescuers’ head impacting the entire beach safety exercise,” he said.
Jadhav, who has been learning new methods from Australian counterparts through video-conferencing, explains new practices now operational at sea, including “new distances” being introduced through equipment and technique.
A longer surfboard is now preferred as it builds distance between the victim and the lifeguard, and in cases of attempted suicide or those suffering from mental health, the lifeguards circle the victim instead of holding them by hand. “If the person is fully unconscious then it’s the good old manual book,” said Jadhav.
However, wherever possible, jet skis are used to tug the victims back to the shore. “Now, the rescuer too needs to be rescued. They from drowning, we from infection,” said Jadhav.
After the unlock, the domestic tourists are now gradually returning to the beach. “We slowly move our safety jeeps around them and ensure they are instructed through the public announcement megaphones,” said Jadhav.
Ghag points to another risk target — toddlers and minors. “That’s new. Parents and large family groups have started going near the water just to wet their legs, while they leave the elderly kids to watch over toddlers. Few who were warned gave excuses ‘we were locked in our homes for weeks.”
The teams are now trained to “herd” such groups through a “new whistle routine”.
The biggest loss due to Covid is the swimming drill, according to Ghag. “We have rescue woven into our muscle memory. But that muscle needs rigorous training in indoor pools which Covid has stopped.”
Other work hazards have become “ten times scarier” with tourists spitting on lifeguards or even attacking them when asked to behave. “Last month a tourist spat on a lifeguard at Candolim. He went back scared that he will be infected,” recalled Jadhav.
A new sanitiser kit is also available at the base of each watchtower. “With no tourism, the stray dog population went hungry with lifeguards taking turns feeding them. Now behaviour patterns are changing when they see the crowd coming back. Everyday, the cases of dog bites are another issue we are monitoring,” Ghag said.
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