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Safety expert on national lifeguard shortage

At least 20 people have drowned in New York and New Jersey waters since April, as a national lifeguard shortage hits home and swimmers continue to swarm unprotected shores.

With summer not even here yet, 15 tragedies have unfolded in New Jersey and five in New York, most in just the last two weeks.

On Friday night, a teenage girl and a man drowned in separate incidents in the Rockaways. The girl, 16, was swimming near Beach 108th Street when she went under and was pulled out by civilians just after 6 p.m., police said. About 20 minutes later, the man, believed to be in his 20s, got into trouble off Beach 98th Street, cops said. Both victims had been swimming in prohibited areas, Parks officials said. They were also in water after 6 p.m., when lifeguards leave for the day.

The grim scorecard includes:

  • On April 22, New Milford NJ HS student Clinten Ajit, 18, drowned in a town pond after attempting to retrieve a soccer ball.
  • Alfred Williams, 19, of Pennsylvania, lost his life while swimming in the ocean off a Wildwood, NJ, beach May 31.
  • Joel Green, 53, also of Pennsylvania, perished June 7 after swimming at Wildwood Crest, NJ.
  • On June 10, two teens drowned while swimming with friends in Jamaica Bay. Ryan Wong and Daniel Persaud, both 13, were standing on a sandbar in Jamaica Bay near Beach 96th Street and Cross Bay Boulevard around 11:40 a.m. when it apparently collapsed and they went under, cops said.
A sign memorializing Daniel Persuad, one of the teens who drowned in Jamaica Bay earlier this month.
Gregory P. Mango
Ryan Wong and Persuad drowned after the sand bar they were standing on collapsed.
Ryan Wong and Persuad drowned after the sand bar they were standing on collapsed.
Facebook/GLoria Wong
  • Fernando Perez, 24, of Lake Hopatcong, NJ, drowned while swimming off a Belmar, NJ, beach June 13.
  • Elizabeth Treharne, 59, of Toms River, perished after being swept away in Island Beach State Park in Jersey around 8:20 p.m., June 13.

“It’s frightening. … What people don’t understand is that if you are not a good swimmer, jumping into water that is over your head is like jumping into fire,” said Andrea Zaferes, 56, an underwater search and rescue investigator who teaches diving and water rescue to fire, law enforcement, EMS, and the military.

When it comes to swimmers in distress, “the average non-swimming adult will struggle for about a minute and then go under. For a child, it’s 20 seconds. That’s not a lot of time,” Zaferes said.

New York underwater search and rescue investigator Andrea Zaferes compared a poor swimmer going into water to jumping into a fire.
New York underwater search and rescue investigator Andrea Zaferes compared a poor swimmer going into water to jumping into a fire.
DANIEL WILLIAM MCKNIGHT

The Ulster County-based safety expert noted that 10 people drown each day in the U.S and 40 people drown every hour worldwide, according to the Center For Disease Control and World Health Organization.

In many of the New Jersey drownings, there were no lifeguards present or the victims were swimming in places that were off-limits, according to NJ.com.

Mayor Adams this week pledged to “think outside the box and see what we can do” about resuming swimming lessons. He also contended that a pay raise wasn’t the answer to the national lifeguard shortage, noting lifeguards do their job “because of the love of the swimming, because of the love of protecting people. … It’s not about dollars and cents.”

New York City will continue to hire lifeguards to address the shortage until July 4.
New York City will continue to hire lifeguards to address the shortage until July 4.
J.C.Rice

Zaferes didn’t mince words on the repercussions of the lifeguard shortage: “I cannot imagine how it will not increase the risk of people drowning,” she said.

NYC outdoor pools officially open June 28. The city will continue to hire lifeguards through July 4.

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