Lives on the line: Lifesavers' fears as beaches stay open
VOLUNTEER lifesavers across the Sunshine Coast are concerned for their own safety after having their role deemed an essential service, requiring them to be on patrol during a pandemic.
While Surf Lifesaving Queensland have reduced crews to skeleton staff, classed as "surveillance" only, the red and yellow army believe beaches should close.
However, the beaches remain open, unlike some on the Gold Coast, but with no flags standing tall.
Noosa, Coolum and Peregian beaches are only being run by lifeguards, yet beaches to the south require the services of unpaid volunteers.
A senior member of a Sunshine Coast Surf Lifesaving Club questioned why volunteers were forced to potentially risk exposure to coronavirus.
Under SLSQ directions, any members who do not feel comfortable patrolling can be removed from the roster.
But the senior member said the majority of lifesavers felt it was their duty to patrol and protect beaches.
"The vast majority of lifesavers I have spoken to said they 'don't want to, but feel like they should as they're committed to'," the veteran lifesaver said.
"Volunteers being declared an essential service, encourages people to go to the beach.
"But the State Government is directing people to stay at home.
"We are at the coal face. But if we go out about do a major rescue, how can we safely perform CPR and revive them?"
Should lifesavers be considered an essential service amid the coronavirus pandemic?
This poll ended on 13 May 2020.
Yes, they will just need extra protection.
No. People should not be swimming at the beach.
I'm not sure.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
The veteran lifesaver feared it would take a tragedy to force change.
"Heaven forbid if a volunteer contracts the virus and spreads it on, or dies themselves. We have a lot of patrollers in the high-risk category," the member said.
The Daily understands many leading patrol members want beaches closed but the council will only close them if residents stop continuing social distancing.
Lifesaver and councillor Jason O'Pray wouldn't comment on whether beaches should be open but said the message remained, "if flags are down no swimming".
Alex Mal Club president Kevin Annetts said it was a "touchy" debate but ultimately sympathised with lifesavers.
"If they don't want to patrol, they shouldn't but they probably feel they're doing the right thing by the community," Mr Annetts said.
"My gut feeling that closing the car parks would help deter people coming up from Brisbane, we were worried about that when Gold Coast shut their beaches.
"It's a good thing the beaches are still open so people can have a swim or walk their dog. But imagine if we had a swell pick up."
Coolum Boardriders Club president Chris Barraclough had just finished a Saturday morning swim when he spoke to the Daily. "Without lifesavers on patrol people will go into spots they shouldn't be," Mr Barraclough said.
"People still want to go out in the ocean, so they have something to do.
"Down at Coolum today there isn't many people about anyway."
Surf Lifesaving Queensland said the health and safely of its members was a core priority at all times.
"All SLSQ members have been advised that their personal health and safety comes first at all times," a SLSQ statement read.
"Should a member not wish to continue patrols during the current circumstances, arrangements can be made in liaison with their club to temporarily remove them from the roster.
"Additionally, SLSQ has asked all active volunteer members who are over the age of 65 to temporarily cease patrolling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This decision was made following announcements from authorities that older Australians should self-isolate and limit contact with others as much as possible.
"SLSQ will continue to work with the Queensland Government, local councils and health authorities during this time, and will continue to provide updates to members."