Bay County Commission Considering Lifeguards

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If you've ever been swimming near the M.B. Miller County Pier or at Rick Seltzer Park, Bay County commissioners may have plans to make you feel a little safer there.

In the past, commissioners have cautioned against using lifeguards for liability reasons. With recent drownings, some commissioners say it's time to reconsider.

The topic of lifeguards wasn't on Tuesday's agenda, but certainly sparked a discussion between commissioners.

"We're worried about the impact of the BP oil on our beaches, but yet, we've kind of turned a blind side to the issue of the drownings at the beaches and what that could do to our reputation nationally," said Guy Tunnell, District 4 Commissioner.

Commissioners are now looking into the possibility of lifeguards at the M.B. Miller County Pier and Rick Seltzer Park. They say those are popular beach locations. The big issue remains: how to pay for it.

"Everybody wants everybody to be as safe as they can possibly be. The problem is how to fund it and how to do the best job with it and in a seasonal business, it's hard to pay people year round for things," said Mike Thomas, District 5 Commissioner

Commissioner Thomas says if lifeguards are placed on the beach, they would need more training.

"A surf rescue certified lifeguard goes through an extensive training system in open water. Most Red Cross lifeguards are pool certified lifeguards. Very few people drown in a pool in Panama City Beach," said Thomas.

Previously the commission has cautioned against lifeguards for liability reasons, but some commissioners say it's time for a change.

"We spend millions of dollars to get the tourists down here, I think we need to provide for them," said Tunnell.

Others say there may be an alternative.

"I do not want the county to hire lifeguards or the TDC to hire lifeguards. I think we can implement a lifeguard system by the business people that are being used out there already," said Thomas.

Bay County commission staff is looking into several options and funding for lifeguards. No estimates have been given for how much this program could cost.