NAVARRE BEACH — The beach is 21 continuously trained lifeguards safer after the Navarre Beach Fire Rescue took over safety services this season.
"We work as a team now," Navarre Beach Fire Chief Danny Fureigh said. "We're trained to the same standards, so patient care after the rescue is where the Fire Department has benefited."
The 21 new lifeguards underwent a lifeguard academy class a couple weeks ago with other applicants that Fureigh said was a pass or fail course. The course had a 50 percent pass rate. The 21 graduates, with a median age of 33, also continue training.
Fureigh said the training has totaled about 200 hours, including work with beach ATVs, 80 hours of medical, life flight helicopters, rip currents, marine life and a certification from the United States Lifeguard Association.
"What we're doing now is fine tuning it," Fureigh said. "We're waiting on the weather to get a little bit warmer. That's when they will receive their WaveRunner training.
"The training has just begun, but they've really received a lot of training to date."
The training and scheduling of the lifeguards is handled by a full-time Beach Safety Director Austin Turnbull — an added position to the department. Fureigh said Turnbull will recruit more lifeguards during the off-season.
Turnbull also assembles a weekly beach activity report. Last week's report noted the lifeguards had made more than 9,000 contacts with the public.
With the new lifeguards, the Fire Department was also in need of new equipment, some of which Fureigh said was donated by the community.
Six new rescue boards at $1,100 a piece were given to the department by the community.
"We put the word out on social media that they were in poor condition, and people were coming out of the woodwork to help us," Fureigh said.
Other fire departments in the area with lifeguards also have donated equipment, Fureigh said.
The South Walton Fire District donated four ATVs, which Fureigh said have been a gig help.
Ultimately, Fureigh said the program has been wildly successful, with more than 3,000 public contacts a day and two saves so far.
"Every day we're getting feedback from people who live on the beach that are in these condos," Fureigh said. "They see the lifeguards out there a lot more.
"We're taking it to a more professional level."