NAVARRE BEACH — Santa Rosa County's beaches will become safer come the new year when Navarre Beach Fire Rescue takes over safety services.
The fire department announced Thursday its partnership with Santa Rosa County to provide lifeguard services. The county's water department previously provided the service.
Navarre Beach Fire Rescue will hire 15-20 more people for the new lifeguard positions, according to Chief Danny Fureigh. They will include several roaming lifeguards on all-terrain vehicles.
"We're going to put the announcement out very soon ... for the 2019 season, which begins in March," he said.
Fureigh said he feels the new alliance will provide a better standard of care for water emergencies.
"Being underneath the fire department opens up more opportunities for the lifeguard program — different funding, different grant options," he said. "The way it currently (is), all you have to be is a certified lifeguard. We're going to up the standards and provide USLA (United States Livesaving Association) training to everybody that works for us."
The new lifeguards will be trained to that national standard as well as receive joint training with the fire department.
"We're hoping to give them more medical training for service after they pull (victims) from the water," Fureigh said. "This unified training will focus on prevention being key, and also provide a smooth transition from event to arrival at a hospital, if needed."
The department is excited to begin serving the community in this new way, said Fureigh, who added that the guards will help protect more than double the beach area.
"I think we're going to take it and make it more of a professional lifeguard agency," he said.