Firefighters focus on practical training with city lifeguards

Milford’s 25 lifeguards are even more prepared to handle an emergency at the four city beaches following an eight-week training course led by two Milford firefighters.
Firefighters Chris Zak and Dan Wassmer gave the city’s certified lifeguards some practical training — like simulating serious incidents in the water — to add to the knowledge they learned when they were being trained as lifeguards.

Paul Piscitelli, Milford Recreation director, asked firefighters to lead the training session — the first of its kind here — for several reasons. He thought there was knowledge the firefighters, who are also rescue divers, could share with the lifeguards, who are first on the scene if something happens at the beach.
He also thought it was a good idea that firefighters know what the lifeguards do in case of an emergency, and visa versa, so the two sets of responders could work more efficiently together.
The training took place every Friday this summer from 8 to 10 a.m., so it was a long day for the lifeguards. They had time to grab something to eat after training before heading to their posts at the beach for the day.
But Bill Garfield, recreation supervisor, said the trainees were enthusiastic and worked hard — even at “burpees,” a kind of push up and squat thrust exercise that Zak and Wassmer had them do to build their strength.
“I think our beaches were safe to begin with,” Garfield said. “This is a dedicated group that wants to do their job.”
But now there are even more steps in place to make sure responders are efficient when there is a crisis, Garfield said.
There haven’t been any major incidents on the four city beaches during the time lifeguards are on duty, he said. The lifeguards cover Walnut Beach, Gulf Beach, Anchor Beach and Hawley Avenue Beach.
Last July 4, Hamden resident Rocco Daddio Jr., drowned while walking the sandbar to Charles Island, and there have been some rescues near the sandbar, where the undercurrent is very strong. But that’s a state beach, and state personnel man its lifeguard posts.
More recently, a Stratford man, Timothy Cook, died after diving from the pier at Walnut Beach. That wasin the evening, however, when the lifeguards had gone home.
The lifeguards said they found the training useful.
Kim Panettieri and Makaila Cavender, both seniors at Foran High School, are first-year lifeguards who got their lifeguard training in West Haven.
“They put us in situations so we know what to do if something happens,” Makaila said.
They both acted as witnesses in a final exercise this past Friday at Walnut Beach, when the firefighters organized a rescue scenario in the water. The lifeguards said they learned important skills, such as gathering information from witnesses and helping to pinpoint the location of someone who may have gone underwater to help rescue divers when they arrive on the scene.
“During the training, we had been breaking all of this into steps,” Makaila said. “Today, we put it all together.”
Zak said getting information from witnesses is key in a water rescue because it saves firefighters time looking for a victim underwater.
He said the lifeguards practiced other skills throughout their training, such as CPR, backboarding and throwing ropes into the water during a rescue.
Although the summer season is coming to a close, the training will continue to benefit Milford beachgoers, Piscitelli said, because lifeguards traditionally return four seasons.
“This year we started with 15 new lifeguards,” he said, adding that he expects those to work for the city several more years.
Wassmer said he was very impressed with the dedicated lifeguards, and he said the firefighters learned things from them, too, such as surface rescue techniques that divers may not be as familiar with.
“Next year,” Wassmer told the lifeguards, “we can build on this instead of starting from step one.”