in retrospect

Criticism after beach death

GREG Hackfath says the new response system for beach emergencies is not yet good enough.

“So far it is a worse system without a doubt, but it has the potential to be exceptionally good,” the Coffs Harbour lifeguard said yesterday.

Mr Hackfath is the president of the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association (APOLA).

Lifeguards and surf lifesavers are meeting NSW Police this week to discuss issues with the emergency response system put in place in March 2008 after lobbying by volunteer surf rescue organisation Surf Life Saving NSW.

It is being criticised for endangering lives by sidelining professional lifeguards following the death of a man in the surf at Coffs Harbour last week.

APOLA secretary John Andrews was quoted in yesterday's Sun Herald newspaper as saying lifeguards patrolling the beach nearby when a 36-year-old Sydney man drowned at Park Beach South on Wednesday only found out about the incident after accidentally overhearing radio traffic between ambulances and other emergency forces.

Mr Andrews said the incident was one of at least four since the new system was introduced in which lives could have been saved if council lifeguards had been notified in time.

Surf Life Saving NSW was quoted in the Sun Herald as saying Mr Andrews' allegations were irresponsible and ludicrous. Council lifeguards were on duty on Park Beach on Wednesday, which is separated from North Wall by Coffs Creek.

Mr Hackfath said while it was not ideal, lifeguards had been rung on Wednesday. He said he had all the time details, but the minister has said he would not release call logs.

Mr Hackfath said local surf life saving clubs, police, ambulance and triple-0 were all doing the right thing.

He said the problem was not a local issue but statewide and that the State surf life saving association had set up the system without talking to professional lifeguards, who patrolled most of the busy beaches most of the time.

He said under the old system Triple 0 would ring him directly and they maintained electronic records of all calls, but under the new system, calls to triple-0 go to 13 SURF, which then contacts lifeguards and life savers.

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