Thursday, September 20, 2012

"1964: An Imperial Rip at Dockweiler", by L.A. City OL Richard Fletcher

Image source:
Image source: L.A. County

Dockweiler South (DWS) at the Fire Pits, Memorial Day 2012. Photo by & Copyright Eric Liberty. Used here with permission.  Thanks E !

As our readers will recall, we recently blogged about a blitz rescue along Santa Monica South just past 5 pm on Labor Day 2012 (x-ref:  "It's A Wrap!...").  One of our alumni, L.A. City Ocean Lifeguard Richard Fletcher (Dockweiler 1963 - 1966) read this blog post with interest and it conjured up a vivid memory from his own experiences at Dockweiler "back in the day" in the Summer of 1964.  We are posting hereinafter Richard's remarks and our Q&A that followed.

Richard:  "Your mass rescue reminded me of the only one I was involved in. Second year, 1964, I believe it was. Late summer, otherwise quiet day. Mid afternoon, small surf, receding tide and big crowd. The you-know-what hit the fan when a rip started boiling between my tower and the next one southeast. I and that guard, veteran Dwayne Draves if I recall rightly, flipped our phones and got feet wet. Before even clearing the foam, I could see it was going to be big. I passed two adult male patrons on the way out. They inquired about my mission. I told them about the rip and asked if they were okay. Affirmative. I resumed swimming out and heard both of them yelling for help behind me. You rarely hear someone calling for help in a surf rescue, or that was my experience, but to hear someone behind you doing it is a little nerve-wracking. I went back to get them. They weren't panicked, so I told them to hang on to my float and kick their feet, and continued out to the head of the rip where there was a regular crowd of beach patrons. At one point I had three people hanging on to my float and was talking to the free swimmers to assess their situations and, in effect, do triage while the rest of the guards and the boat arrived. Afterwards, we wrote cards on 27 people.

As Archie and Edith Bunker used to sing, "Those Were The Days."

Best regards, and keep up the good work,"

Richard Fletcher
LA City, Dockweiler


County Recurrent:  "Hi Richard,  I really enjoyed reading about your mass rescue story.  That is a story that should be told!  Which beach was that at?   I could post it as a blog post of its own or you can add it as a 'comment' to the September 2012 Swell blog post that rekindled this great memory!  You were using a rescue tube, right?  The Pete Peterson tube, as I recall.   Multiple victims with a tube is a real test of strength since they do not float as well as our hard plastic rescue cans with the handles that facilitate multiple victims, though not as practical if you have a victim that is in real trouble and unable to swim on their own or even hold on."


Richard:  "It was at Dockweiler fire ring section. Not sure that exists anymore. Right at end of Imperial Blvd.

My tower was Kilgore II, if memory serves. It was my first "permanent" summer tower. Dwayne was working the next tower southeast, Kilgore I. Those towers were named after the residential streets that used to lie up on the palisades. A bunch of B movie schtarkers & extras lived up there, but that's a Cal Porter kind of story. In fact, I think he's already touched on that subject.

Peterson all foam float tube with orange plastic covering. Fortunately, the two guys I picked up on the way out were competent swimmers, but had a brief moment of panic when they couldn't swim against the rip current, which was strong. I was using its energy to get outside, although the surrounding seas were smooth and there was no danger of cleanup sets. It was a royal PIA to go back for those guys, but once under control, they weren't a problem.

There was quite a crowd out at the rip's head but most of them were relatively competent swimmers. It was a situation where some encouraging words went a long way and I had them hang on to the float rather than trying to climb up on it or my having to strap it around a single swimmer. I swam in with my three principal "victims" and a small group of swimmers followed me. While the rip really boiled with lots of dirty, sandy water at the head, it burnt itself out fairly fast. The boat took a group of swimmers who didn't want to swim back to the beach up to Ballona Creek and let them off in shallow water where they climbed out and were driven back to their "spots" on the beach in the trucks. I wasn't alone out there by any means. Dwayne was there and the other tower guards came out and the boat, which was moored at the Palace Street floating moor line in front of the big concrete HQ building, was quickly on scene.

Go ahead and print it if you want. It's a recall situation, which is going on fifty years now. But, in a way, I can close my eyes and see it as if it were yesterday. I believe it was a combination of sea conditions, bottom contours and the massive crowd we had that day. We'd had some big surf the previous week or two and there were some formidable inshore holes. You get a lateral current feeding a rip, if the crowds are there, it will sweep them up."


Richard:  "I got to thinking about the relative merits of cans & tubes. One clear advantage to the later foam tubes is that they're extremely light & much easier to haul seaward through winter or Baja surf. Another is that if you have a victim who can't hang on that you need to get ashore as fast as possible, you can wrap the thing around him/her (most of them anyway) and they'll float high with their heads out of the water.

We had a couple of the old yellow aluminum County cans that we used around piers & rock jetties & groins. I used them occasionally and I liked their compact profile and with their great buoyancy and high flotation were pretty comfortable going out. I recall that the worst thrashing I took going out was on my first Baja-surf rescue where we didn't have the advantage of riding the rip because a series of close-out walls came through and the only option was to go to the bottom and hang on until the freight train passed overhead. I was using the old yellow inflatable Peterson tube and I was glad it wasn't a can because it whacked me pretty good. Naturally, I didn't have fins. They weren't commonly in use. It was obvious to me that with fins you can keep moving when you dive to avoid going over the falls, so I requisitioned some divers fins from Lost & Found and kept them in my gear bag until Jerry's Sleeko Churchills appeared. And, what a difference they made!

I really like the Imperial angle in the title. "Imperial" Boulevard had tons of symbolic meaning for us at Dockweiler. What that day illustrated for me was the volatile mix of sea conditions and crowd dynamics. The last thing on my mind when I opened my tower was a mass rescue. We had discussed the possibility at one time or another, but we had no protocol for dealing with it, which I suspect you have in place today. One retrospective thought is that one trained lifeguard could haul two Peterson-type tubes out to a situation where the more flotation, the better, rules. Or, even jury-rig two tubes on a single shoulder line. Three guards out, and you've got six flotation devices to deploy. They really calm people down, making a world of difference.

A last thought: even on the most tranquil of days, things can go sideways in a heartbeat.

Thanks again for the great blog."




*** Many Thanks to Richard for sharing his remarks and commentary.  We really appreciate it and know that our readership does too!  ***


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

"Sunday Evening Sunset" over Dockweiler, Labor Day Weekend 2012. Photo by & Copyright Eric Liberty 2012.

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