Networking to Lend a Hand in Water Emergencies

Spencer Schneider and Sean Daly of the Hamptons Emergency Lifeguard Partnership, photographed at Windmill Beach in Sag Harbor on Thursday, 5/16/19. Michael Heller photo

Two longtime East End lifeguards are asking for help to grow “HELP,” the Hamptons Emergency Lifeguard Partnership, a social media networking group they recently launched to connect qualified first responders to those in need of assistance on local waters on unprotected beaches or when town lifeguards have signed off for the day.

Spencer Schneider, a trial attorney who lives and practices in East Hampton and New York City, and Sean Daly, a New York City Police detective lieutenant who lives in Hampton Bays, have side jobs as lifeguards at Main Beach. They met there and became friends two years ago. They launched HELP as a Facebook group connected to a mobile app called Pulse Point, which draws reports of water emergencies and other urgent situations from 911 and puts them on a searchable map.

It’s a rescue method similar to the crowdsourcing efforts that aided victims of major hurricanes, tornadoes and floods elsewhere in the country in recent years, Mr. Schneider said.

HELP draws on the expertise of certified lifeguards — more than 100 so far — who joined its closed Facebook group of over 300 members, and who, Mr. Daly and Mr. Schneider said, are willing to lend a hand when they’re nearby, even if they’re off-duty. Someone in need of help in East Hampton waters won’t care if a lifeguard coming to the rescue is from Southampton, Mr. Daly and Mr. Schneider said.

“There’s hundreds of working lifeguards who can be mobilized because everybody carries their cell phone,” Mr. Schneider said in an interview. “They can be mobilized at a moment’s notice if a rescue is needed either at an unprotected beach or after hours at a protected beach. … We’ve already had success with this. It is already working.”

Mr. Daly added, “I’m trying to create the largest network of Suffolk County lifeguards and notify hundreds of people instantly, so that someone who is circumstantially close can respond.”

Of course, they’re not discounting the abilities of police officers and other first responders, who they say are obviously important in emergencies. They point out that 911 should still be called first. And they’re not trying to steal the spotlight of the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue. But they said if a police officer attempts to rescue someone drowning in the surf, that officer needs to first spend time securing his or her firearm before entering the water, meaning precious rescue time begins ticking away.

One challenge they’re coming up against is getting local 911 dispatchers on board. Pulse Point covers the majority of Long Island, Mr. Daly and Mr. Schneider said, but not the East End.

“We’re trying to get a direct link from 911 to our network so that we have a broader coverage of beaches that’s really focused in the Hamptons,” Mr. Schneider said. “We need coverage here. We need the towns to buy in.”

Mr. Daly said water rescues “are an all-hands-on-deck situation.”

“With a water rescue you only have a few minutes,” he said. “In rip currents, the number-one resource we have for a surf rescue is the ocean-trained lifeguard.”

While HELP was mostly Mr. Daly’s brainchild, Mr. Schneider has poured a lot of effort into launching what has now become a New York State-accredited lifeguarding course. It, too, has a catchy acronym: “HOLA,” for “Hamptons Ocean Lifeguard Academy.” The free course will launch this summer.

“We wanted to update what’s taught to lifeguards,” Mr. Schneider said. “I designed a course — Sean helped immensely — we have great instructors and it’s a great program.”

Mr. Daly, who is a member of the NYPD scuba team, said HELP has had a warm reception so far.

“Once we started moving forward with HELP, I approached lifeguards,” he said. “Everyone has nothing but positive things to say. They all agree it will help save a life and have raised their hands to offer assistance.”