The St. Johns County Fire Rescue (SJCFR) Marine Rescue Division is responsible for all aquatic related emergencies occurring in St. Johns County. This includes 42 miles of coastline, the intercoastal waterway and the St. Johns River. The primary objective of this first response service is to provide the highest level of skilled and efficient response to all people or situations requiring any aquatic or marine intervention. We will maintain our levels of training through preparation and strive to advance our abilities for the interests of the community.
The seasonal lifeguard service provided by St. Johns County Fire Rescue established in 1933 maintains 21 lifeguard towers and seven vehicle patrols daily. These positions are staffed with 60 seasonal lifeguards comprised of: Zone Supervisors, Driver Operators and Tower Lifeguards. Personnel and apparatus maintain coverage each day from the hours of 10 am-6 pm from Memorial Day – Labor Day. In addition to these traditional months, the Marine Rescue Division provides beach patrols during the months of March, April and September utilizing seasonal personnel. For the remainder of the year, the Marine Rescue Division is staffed with 4 full-time Fire Rescue Officers supplemented by trained Fire Rescue Responders located at strategically oriented Fire Stations throughout St. Johns County.
SJCFR Marine Rescue is a United States Lifesaving Association Advanced Certified Agency which encompasses 88 hours of surf-lifesaving training which includes 40 hours of Florida DOT First Responder Training. All personnel hired as Driver/Supervisors are also required to complete Emergency Vehicle Operations, Personal Watercraft Rescue Operator and maintain an Emergency Medical Technician or Paramedic certification. All returning personnel must attend yearly 24 hour re-certification training and maintain all applicable state certifications. As a minimum all new and returning employees must complete a physical certification consisting of a 500 meter swim in less than 10 minutes and a ½ mile run in less than 3.5 minutes.
All new seasonal staff members must complete a final practical skills exam affectionately known to our agency as “The Gauntlet”. This event is a compilation of various rescue and medical scenarios covering a 2-mile radius of land and sea. This is not only a challenging physical test of endurance, but also an opportunity for the instructors to evaluate how each student responds to both stressful and unexpected circumstances. Successful completion of this exam is a requirement of employment with our agency.
During the summer lifeguard season, full time personnel have developed a weekly training program comprised of both medical and rescue skills review. Each week a different training topic is assigned and completed by all personnel. By the end of the season, all staff members will have had the opportunity to review all pertinent skills required to perform their jobs, and they will have also completed all medical re-certification hours required by the State.
Throughout the year, Marine Rescue conducts many different educational programs specifically relating to Beach and Water safety, Rip Currents, Marine Life and Hazardous Weather Conditions in local Elementary, Middle and High schools, daycares, after school programs and community groups i.e. churches, Scouts, YMCA and various community festivals. In addition, all Marine Rescue Officers are certified as American Heart Association (AHA) Instructors and complete community based CPR training through the Department’s AHA Community Network. As a part of this program we work closely with the Family Integrity Program certifying potential adoptive parents as part of the Family Adoption Program. Many of these programs are conducted in coordination with the St. Augustine Chapter of the South Atlantic Lifesaving Association.
During the past several years, SJCFR Marine Rescue Division has developed a cutting edge Marine Rescue Operations Plan. The objective when developing this program was to begin cross-training firefighters at 24/7 stations to respond in the aquatic environment. This program has been formatted based on the requirements of The National Fire Protections Agency (NFPA) 1670 requirements and the standard USLA Open Water Lifeguard Certification. To date over 100 certified firefighters have achieved Operations, Technician or Specialist level certifications for completing this rigorous training program. This integration has also allowed our seasonal personnel the opportunity to train closely with career Fire Rescue personnel in both medical and practical response scenarios. The continued implementation of this program has greatly increased our ability to respond around the clock 365 days a year to aquatic emergencies and expand our ability to protect the citizens and visitors of our community.
With the development of this program SJCFR has been contacted by numerous surrounding agencies with requests to teach and assist in developing similar programs in both combined Fire Rescue Departments and also in Lifeguard only agencies. During the past year, we have taught portions of this program to the following agencies in our area: Jacksonville Fire & Rescue, Flagler County Fire Rescue, Putnam County Fire Department, Nassau County Fire Rescue, Mayport Naval Station, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, City of St. Augustine Fire Department and the United States Coast Guard.
Our goal in teaching this program to surrounding agencies is to create a unified response to water rescue type emergencies for the Northeast FL region. The 1670 program was designed to work for all levels of water rescue response, from the basic Operations responder all the way to the advanced Specialist responder. Utilizing the framework developed by the USLA and the NFPA we have developed a program that can be tailored to each Departments needs and allow water safety to be emphasized across the region. As this program continues to evolve we hope to share this tool with other agencies outside the Northeast FL area in our continuing effort to enhance training and education in the aquatic environment.
• King of the Beach – annual in-house competition between beach zones consisting of three days of competition culminating in a celebration provided by the Marine Rescue Officers.
• Polar Bear Swims – 20 annual one-mile swims conducted during the winter months to help acclimate personnel to cold water operations and maintain a relationship with seasonal personnel during the winter months.
• Point to Point Competition – Annual 14 mile race held from the St. Augustine Inlet to the Matanzas Inlet consisting of a: swim, kayak, swim, run and paddle.
• Lifeguard of the Year – awarded to the lifeguard who performs exceptionally during the season.
• Rookie of the Year – awarded to the 1st year lifeguard who performs exceptionally during the season.
• Golden Microphone – annual award given to the seasonal or career personnel who has the best, worst or most interesting radio transmission of the year.
• Pelican Award – annual award given in jest to the employee who accidentally swims out to rescue a “pelican”.
• 2012 – Recipient of the Florida Beach Patrol Association’s Presidents Award recognizing organizational excellence. Please see attachment for copy of the award.
• 2011 – Certificate of Merit from the United States Coast Guard presented to St. Johns County Fire Rescue Special Operations Marine Rescue. Please see attachment for copy of the award.
• 2005 – Certificate of Recognition from the City of Rome Georgia presented to St. Johns County Fire Rescue Special Operations Marine Rescue. Please see attachment for copy of the award.
Agency Statistics for October 1, 2011 – September 30, 2012
Total Events: – 1,617 Emergency Calls
• Water or Beach Related Fatalities – 1
• Swimmers in Distress – 282
• Marine Rescue Assist Vessel – 50
• Medical Emergencies – trauma/medical – 225
• Marine Rescue Assist Citizen – 1000
• Marine Rescue Missing Person – land/water – 40
• Marine Rescue Assist other Agency – 11
• Motor Vehicle Crash Submerged – 3
• Marine Rescue Vessel MVC – 1
• Marine Rescue Vessel Fire – 1
• Marine Rescue Off Beach Emergency – fire,medical,MVC – 3