Catalina Island News

Ground Breaking Ceremonies for Lifeguard-Paramedic Building in Avalon

LA County Lifeguard-Paramedics

On August 1, 2008, a new era of Lifeguard service began on Catalina Island as a ground breaking ceremony was held at the future site of the new-Avalon lifeguard station, when completed it will stand next to the fire station on land donated by the City.

Supervisor Don Knabe joined Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman, Lifeguard Chief Mike Frazer, Mayor Bob Kennedy, Fire Chief Steve Hoefs and a host of other county and city dignitaries in scooping the first shovels of dirt from the site and ceremoniously tossing them aside.

The new Avalon Lifeguard -Paramedic Station is the culmination of five years of planning and negotiating and will be entirely funded by the Fourth Supervisory District.  At a cost of $3.9 million, the two-story station will be a 7,005 square foot building with a two-bay apparatus area for housing a paramedic truck, a utility vehicle and watercraft trailers.  It will have an office with storage rooms and a reception area.  The facility will also include a dormitory for the on-duty lifeguard paramedics, a living room, kitchen, dining room and bedroom space for up to eight personnel.  Construction is scheduled to be completed by summer 2009.

Lifeguard service in Avalon and Catalina Island has a long and distinguished history dating back to the early 1970's.  Since that time they have gone on thousands of calls that range in diversity from cut fingers to heart attacks, diving accidents, vessels in distress, lost or stranded hikers, underwater search and rescue and boat fires to name a few.  They work in close proximity with the hyperbaric chamber at the USC- Wrigley Institute and can spend hours in the chamber themselves administering medications and assisting victims in their attempts to return to a state of physical health and normalcy.

Several of their members assigned to Catalina Island and Avalon have received Medal of Valor, Distinguished Service and Humanitarian Awards for the courageous actions they have taken above and beyond the call of duty and for placing themselves at great personal risk under extreme conditions.  Recent recipients include Abby Balderas, Jim McDonald, Matt Lutton, Joel Gitelson, Kevin Marble, Brian Lanich and J.T. Mehuron.

Lifeguard service on our island includes Baywatch Avalon and Baywatch Isthmus which are staffed with two Lifeguard-Paramedics each 24-hours a day 365 days a year.  During the summer months of June to September they are assisted by "recurrent or seasonal" lifeguards who are assigned to Avalon and on-duty during the day at North, Central and South Beaches.  These recurrent Lifeguards consist of doctors, lawyers, teachers and students working summer jobs before returning to school.  Each of them must undergo extensive training and be physically fit to perform this vital service. 

The Lifeguards also sponsor the Junior Lifeguard Program which is offered to all boys and girls ages 9 -17 in Los Angeles County.  The six week program provides instruction in water safety, swimming, paddling, body surfing, surfing, physical conditioning, competition skills, first aid, lifesaving, rescue techniques, CPR, and the use of professional lifeguard equipment.  This year a full class of 60 young people was trained in Avalon.  All sessions are instructed and supervised by experienced LA County Fire Department Lifeguards.

Originally with the Dept. of Parks and Recreation, the Lifeguards joined the Dept. of Beaches and Harbors in 1982 and on July 1, 1994 became a division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.  The City of Avalon contracts with the County for the Lifeguards to provide paramedic and other services to the City. 

The addition of their own facility in Avalon has been a long time in coming but will definitely be worth the wait.  The new station will provide them with a base of operations for their fleet of vehicles and personnel and assist them in continuing to provide vital Lifeguard and paramedic services to the City and waters surrounding Catalina Island.  

In a statement announcing the ground-breaking ceremony, representatives of the lifeguards thanked Avalon Fire Chief Steve Hoefs for his hospitality in providing housing for lifeguard-paramedics at his fire station for over the past two years and until the new station's completion.

- Steve F. Escoto