AYER — It was a cold night at Sandy Pond Beach. The dark clouds rolled across the sky as the rain began to fall on water and sand. Visibility couldn’t have been the greatest under the circumstances, but the weather and visibility didn’t stop the Ayer Fire Department from holding its yearly training with the town’s lifeguards.
Members of the Fire Department and lifeguards lined-up across the beach at the opening of the pond to search for the bright orange cone Lt. Jeremy Januskiewicz strategically placed at the bottom.
Searching the water as if the two public safety groups were forming the shape of an “S,” they searched every inch of the water until Fire Fighter Michael DeBlasio held up the orange cone above his head.
The group did it again; this time when the orange cone was found, Lt. Timothy Shea jumped into the water so his colleagues and the lifeguards could practice putting a neck brace on him and placing him on the backboard.
After practicing the rescue techniques a few more times, Januskiewicz spoke to the lifeguards about what they learned during the training session.
“Before we arrive you need to question the family or friends,” he explained. “Ask a lot of questions. Like, ‘How long has it been since they were seen?’ ‘Where were they seen last?’ ‘Did someone see them get into the water?’ You then need to pick a spot in the water to start the search and let us know where that spot is when we get here.”
Given that the nearest dive team is about an hour away, Capt. Paul Fillebrown explained to the lifeguards that the Fire Department will still need their help even after they arrive.
“Don’t be bashful,” Fillebrown said. “Jump right in and help us with everything.”
This is the second year the Fire Department has teamed up with the lifeguards for training even though Januskiewicz said he’s been with the department for 10 years and they’ve never had to respond to a call at the town beach.
“Anytime they think they need assistance getting out of the swimming area is when they should call us,” he said. “Or even if they just feel it’s an incident beyond what they can handle.”
Chief Robert Pedrazzi said he thinks the last incident at the pond occurred in 1987 or 1988.
“There was a drowning back then,” he said. “But it wasn’t even at the beach; it was further down the pond. I don’t remember any other incidents or even false alarms.”
To make it easier for the lifeguards to contact the Fire Department, they installed an alarm box at the beach so lifeguards would simply pull the alarm instead of having to call 9-1-1.
There are eight lifeguards at the town beach, according to Waterfront Director Heidi Januskiewicz.
“They’re all trained in CPR, waterfront rescue and first aid,” she said of her staff. “They’re all really good swimmers.”
Januskiewicz was happy her staff attended the training and was pleased with the information the Fire Department provided.
“It’s really all about communication and water safety,” she said.
The beach will be staffed with two or three lifeguards during the hours of noon to 7 p.m., seven days a week.
“Honestly, it’s not swimming at your own risk,” she said. “There’s no swimming when there are no lifeguards on duty. The park is still open, so people can come and play basketball or volleyball, but there is no swimming allowed after (7 p.m.).”
Town officials frequently drive past the beach after hours to make sure people aren’t breaking the rules and swimming without the supervision of a lifeguard.
“It’s been a little bit of an issue in the past,” Januskiewicz said of late-night swimmers. “It’s really hard to enforce because the gates don’t lock so people can use the park. But when I or any other town official sees someone in the water, we ask them to get out.”