Beach drowning shines light on decision to scrap surf rescue team

OCEAN SHORES, Wash. -- A swimmer lost in the surf off Ocean Shores Saturday night is presumed dead, and now some say his drowning could have been prevented if the city had kept its surf rescue team.

The 18-year-old Southern California man was among eight members of a youth group that got caught in a rip tide. His friends tried, and then police and fire crews tried unsuccessfully to find him from the shoreline. He's still missing, and heavy fog has prevented a helicopter search.

It took an hour for a Coast Guard boat to reach the scene but the city had to equipment to search the surf quicker, yet couldn't use it.

A small fleet of Seadoos, once used by the city's surf rescue team, sat idle at the fire department because city leaders decided not to spend $55,000 required for hazard pay for the police and fire members that make up the team.

"We couldn't keep the budget for the surf rescue not only to pay the members -- there were up to 10 members --but also for training, keeping people certified," said Ocean Shores City Councilman Gordon Broadbent. "If we couldn't do it 110 percent then we are better off not to do it."

It's not a comforting thought for Jay Flansburg, who lost power on his fishing boat Monday and was about the hit the rocks at the jetty. He had just enough power to beach his boat, otherwise he was about to abandon ship, swimming for his life.

"We are still missing somebody, its tragic," Flansburg said. "They need funding."

Mayor Crystal Dingler says a death of a surf member team in training accident five years ago, whose name is imprinted on the fire trucks, overshadows the city's decision. Without up-to-date training, she doesn't want to see the Seadoos in action.

"If you are not practicing, if you are not right up to the minute using those things and have enough practice and it's practically automatic -- you can't, it's too dangerous," she said.

The new fire chief is under orders not to use the Seadoos.

"In in the moment, when you don't have that resource, you do miss it when you are standing on the shore," said Ocean Shores Fire Chief Tom Lique.

Dingler says Ocean Shores is recovering from the recession but not enough to fund the rescue team.