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Drownings renew call for lifeguards at Wasaga Beach

By Gisele Winton Sarvis, Special to Postmedia Network

Melissa Haskett checks out the lifeguard station at Barrie’s Johnson’s Beach after doing a radio interview to promote her petition to get lifeguards at Wasaga Beach after two men drowned July 15.

GISELE WINTON SARVIS/PHOTO Melissa Haskett checks out the lifeguard station at Barrie’s Johnson’s Beach after doing a radio interview to promote her petition to get lifeguards at Wasaga Beach after two men drowned July 15.

WASAGA BEACH - The drowning of two men in Wasaga Beach last Saturday at the confluence of the Nottawasaga River and Georgian Bay has renewed the call for lifeguards on the beach.

Leading the charge is Melissa Haskett of Wasaga Beach, who started a petition in June. Since the drowning of Nimit Sharma, 26, of Collingwood and Dilvinder Lakhanpal, 27, of Caledon, the number of signatures on the online petition has grown from 100 to 800.

“That’s the deadliest spot we have on the beach,” said Haskett, who knows that all too well.

Her son Zack drowned at the same location July 18, 2012. Nine-year-old Zack Haskett was not a strong swimmer and got caught in the current and undertow where the Nottawasaga River empties into Georgian Bay.

Haskett is angry because while the Town of Wasaga Beach issued a press release June 16 that six life-saving stations were being added at the waterfront including one at the spit while four had previously existed including one at Spruce Street.

Haskett she knows that there was no such stations at either Spruce Street or at the spit at the time the men died.

“There’s one at Spruce Street now. It looks brand new,” she said. She was checking to see if one had been installed at the spit at the Enterprise-Bulletin deadline.

According to the press release the Town of Wasaga Beach added six new life-saving stations at the beachfront in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). Locations included Beach Area One on the spit at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River, three at Beach Area Two and two at Beach Area Five. There had already been four stations: one at Spruce Street, one at Third Street, one a Beach Area Five and one at 30th Street.

In the release Mayor Brian Smith said, “Safety at our beachfront is something that is extremely important to the municipality. I hope that as we move forward we can have even more of these life-saving stations.

“And once the ministry has signed off on our agreement for the town to manage Beach One and Two, I hope that we can work towards having lifeguard stations at these beach areas.”

The Town of Wasaga Beach is in final negotiations to take control of the operation of Beach Area One and Two from the MNRF that oversees Wasaga Beach Provincial Park.

Negotiations have been underway for a couple of years, as has the renewal of Wasaga Beach’s commercial area.

Council and the economic development department in its revitalization plan calls for lifeguards and stations. It was originally planned for this summer but was dropped due to budgetary restrictions. Lifeguards are scheduled for next summer.

That’s not good enough for Haskett.

She remembers the days in the 1980s when there were 12 lifeguard stations and 22 lifeguards and a boat patrol on the beach.

“They were amazing back then,” she said.

Lifeguards were cancelled in 1996.

Haskett has been researching the topic and has talked to the mayor of Lambton regarding Grand Bend Beach that has had 12 lifeguards at six stations for the past 20 years in a small municipality.

Mayor Bill Weber told her there have drownings even with lifeguards but many more lives have been saved and the township has never been sued.

Haskett wants to see lifeguard stations at Beach Areas One, Two and Three. In addition she would like swimming banned at the river’s mouth with a large sign reading “No swimming due to strong undercurrent.”

And she would like to see an emergency phone or two at the beach to reduce response time to an emergency.

“I think for our image now, especially now we are trying to revitalize our beach what better way to than to say ‘Wasaga Beach has brought lifeguards back,’” said Haskett.

“Bringing them back would draw more families. It gives the people a sense of safety and security,” she said.

Lifeguards can respond faster than the paramedics, police or fire department because the emergency services have to drive to the beach, often through traffic. Lifeguards could treat people quickly for all kinds of medical emergencies including heart attack or heat stroke while alerting and waiting for emergency services to arrive, she said.

To sign the online petition go to the website under Bring Back Lifeguards in Wasaga Beach or through the Facebook page Zack’s Bracelets 4 swimming lessons 4ever9 or through Melissa Hackett’s personal Facebook page. 

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