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Ocean Force: Huntington Beach, OC

Officer Claude Panis
Officer Claude Panis
Q: What has been your most terrifying moment working as a lifeguard?
A: Without a doubt it was the first day I was assigned to work a lifeguard tower. I was a 16-year-old kid, who had just been hired. They called me and told me to report to Tower 7. I had never worked solo in a tower and I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. If someone drowned, it would be my fault and I would have to live with that for the rest of my life. The nervousness I felt was indescribable. It was a lot of pressure for a teenager just finishing his junior year in high school. I made five rescues that day and gained a lot of confidence. Nobody drowned.

Q: Describe the first time you saved a life.
A: It was that first day. I had been watching a strong rip current just off to the left of my tower. There were three heavyset men standing in waist deep water and all of sudden they stepped off of a sand bar and into a hole. Worse yet, the lateral current was sweeping them towards the rip current.

I grabbed my buoy and responded. They were in a panic, struggling and trying to get to shallow water. I managed to float all three of them on my buoy and began the swim back into shore. It was not easy, due to their size, but I managed to get all three of them into shore. There was no doubt in my mind that all three of them would have drowned had I not intervened. It was my first rescue, but one that I would never forget and it set the tone for my career. The internal satisfaction was a great reward!

Q: What is the biggest fear you have about what could happen on the job?
A: The biggest fear for any lifeguard is the loss of a life. We train physically and mentally, and stay up on the latest rescue equipment and techniques. We maintain our health, through good diet and exercise, in order to be responsive and alert. We do all this to be at our best on a rescue, because our performance will determine the difference between life and death.

Q: What has been your most satisfying moment on this job?
A: The day I resuscitated a surfer who had a heart attack in the water.

I was patrolling at the Huntington Cliffs and saw several surfers waving me down at the waterline. As I got closer, I could see that two of them were performing CPR on an unconscious surfer. I took charge of the situation and we moved the victim to dry sand and used an automatic defibrillator. After delivering several shocks and performing CPR, the victim made it. The majority of CPR calls result in the death of the victim, but this one survived. The doctors said it was a miracle. It was definitely the most satisfying moment in my lifeguard career.

Q: What is the strangest thing you've seen on this job?
A: The trail of dead pigeons that I saw on an early morning patrol. They had evidently been killed and dressed shortly before I arrived. All that was left were the entrails, wings, feet and head, which were scattered for about a half mile down the beach. It was Thanksgiving morning and I guess some people just couldn't afford to buy a turkey.
Officer Matt Norton
Officer Matt Norton
Q: What has been your most terrifying moment working as a lifeguard?
A: Any call involving small children. Whether it's missing kids or medical emergencies, there is an extra sense of urgency when dealing with children and their parents. I had a small child stop breathing on the beach and her mother was frantic. It is easy to get caught up and panic, but constant training and a deep breath helped keep me calm. The girl survived.

Q: Describe the first time you saved a life.
A: I don't think it hit me till later in the afternoon. I had rescued a man who had been pulled out by a rip current. It was my first week working in a lifeguard tower, and up to that point, most of my responses into the water were preventative, making sure people didn't get in harm's way. That afternoon, a mother who had been watching me came up and thanked me for my efforts. She commented that the one man I rescued earlier in the day, her husband, wouldn't have survived without my assistance.

Q: What dreams do you have about your job?
A: Having to explain why we couldn't save someone's life.

Q: What is the biggest fear you have about what could happen on the job?
A: Without a doubt, it would be the injury or death of a teammate.

Q: What has been your most satisfying moment on this job?
A: The most satisfying moments come at the end of each work day. After a busy day, running from call to call, knowing that you and your staff have done the best job possible protecting the public is ultra satisfying. One hundred thousand people on our beach during a warm summer weekend day is common. Realizing that you had a hand in ensuring their safe passage home can be gratifying.

Q: What is the strangest thing you've seen on this job?
A: It has to be all the weird special events hosted on our beach. Pro wrestling, paint ball competitions, snow boarding, motorcycle jumping, roller hockey and, most recently, a cattle drive. Hundreds of cows walking in the sand, rounded up by cowboys on horseback. I've seen a small aircraft make an emergency landing on the beach as well as skydivers who were blown way off course.
Officer Steve Reuter
Q: What has been your most terrifying moment working as a lifeguard?
A: One day we had a pretty good storm, with gale force winds. I looked out and saw a 65 foot trawler taking on water. We went out in a 12 foot inflatable rescue boat to help them. By the time we got there, the trawler was taking on quite a bit of water of the bow. I climbed onboard with two buckets. I went below deck and spent an hour filling the buckets up and making sure the bilge was working. It was a nightmare down thereŚlike the movie "Titanic." Things floating around, having no idea what they were. Worried that I might get tangled up in something. By the time I got back on deck, I was overcome with diesel fumes. I'll never forget that smell.

The next day, the same boat went past us. The guys waved hello to us. We waved hello back.

Q: Do you have any nightmares about the job?
A: No. My days are so busy that I sleep better at night.

Q: What is the strangest thing you've seen on this job?
A: We used to have a guy on the pier who would wear feathers and act like a pigeon. I thought perhaps he was pigeon in a former life.
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