‘Severe’ Lifeguard Shortage in Wilmington

August 31, 2018

A view from Silver Lake in Wilmington near the fishing pier. In the distance is the area marked off with buoys for the Town Beach. SUN photos /KORI TUITT Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

WILMINGTON -- A 19-year-old man’s drowning at Silver Lake Wednesday came during the time of year Wilmington struggles to staff lifeguards at its Town Beach.

The last day lifeguards worked at the Town Beach was Sunday, Aug. 12. Town Manager Jeff Hull said with students primarily employed as lifeguards, staffing has been an issue for years.

“Many of the students who are lifeguards are heading off to school later in August, so the decision has been going in this fashion for many years now,” Hull said of the beach season coming to a close in mid-August.

Recreation Director Karen Campbell said they employed between 12 to 14 lifeguards this summer at the beach, located off Grove Avenue and Burnap Street. The lifeguards were high school and college students and there were a few adult supervisors, she said. According to the town website, there was a “severe lifeguard shortage” this season and the town is already looking for 2019 lifeguard staff.

Hull said Wednesday’s fatal incident took place in another part of Silver Lake, outside of the buoy area marked off for swimming at the Town Beach.

“The area that is under the town’s jurisdiction that we maintain for designated swimming area is just the area right off of the main beach,” Hull said. “We do have people that swim across the lake. There’s a group of people that train for various competitions that swim across the lake, and to a large measure they’re really swimming at their own risk because we don’t supervise swimming beyond the buoy area.”

A sign at the Town Beach at Silver Lake informs swimmers there is no lifeguard on duty, warning them to “swim at own risk.”

According to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, the victim was pronounced dead at Winchester Hospital. He was reportedly swimming with relatives and underwater for about 30 minutes.

The victim’s identity will not be released, as no foul play was suspected, authorities said.

Police Chief Michael Begonis said drownings in the past have all happened outside of the roped area. He said it is just heart-breaking.

“Obviously, we’re devastated for the loss of the family and friends of this young man,” Begonis said. “I do want to applaud the efforts of the public safety responders and their determination to do what they could to attempt to save his life.”

Hull said the roped off swimming area was designated as such because it is more of a sandy area.

“My understanding is once you get beyond this little sanded area it does drop off fairly significantly,” Hull said. “Once you get beyond the designated swimming area there are much deeper areas and there are different pockets throughout the lake that are deeper than others.”

Campbell said the deepest part of the lake drops down to about 30 feet. There is a drop-off area outside of the swimming area, which Campbell said is posted. Hull urged swimmers to use caution and to not swim alone.

“I would just really caution the people to be mindful of the area that they’re swimming in and really that they need to recognize their swimming skills and abilities,” Hull said. “I think sometimes people tend to think they can either have the endurance to swim a greater distance than they can or have the skills they don’t really have.”

Temperatures soared into the 90s Wednesday and witnesses on the scene after the drowning said the beach was packed that day. Theresa Moakley lives near the Town Beach and walks her dog in the area daily. She said she was saddened by the news of the drowning.

“When you lose a child it hits you right in the heart,” said Moakley, who has lived in town for nearly 59 years. “The beach is pretty safe, but they’re only young kids and they don’t know the dangers of the water.”

For more than a decade, Moakley said she would bring her grandchildren to the beach. She said swimmers should pay attention to the cautionary signs and reconsider swimming beyond the buoys, especially if they do not know the lake well.

This is the third drowning The Sun has reported this month in the Lowell area. A Lowell man’s body was recovered from a downtown Lowell canal on Aug. 11, and on Aug. 7, a 17-year-old drowned in Merrill’s Quarry in Westford.

According to The Sun’s archives, there were two drowning deaths at Silver Lake in 2001. Both drownings reportedly took place outside beach hours when no lifeguards were on duty.

The Town Beach at Silver lake is free for residents. Those who live outside of town are charged a non-resident fee of $10 for those ages 3 and older. The beach rules include no hanging or swimming beyond the ropes. Between June 9 and Aug. 12, the Town Beach was set to be staffed with a lifeguard daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weather permitting, according to the town website.

“Certainly, it was a very tragic, unfortunate situation and our condolences go out to the family,” Hull said. “Our thoughts are with the family.”

The Police Department issued a press release announcing support services tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Counselors will be available for private, one-on-one conversations about coping and witnessing trauma at the department, located at 1 Adelaide St. The first session for support services was scheduled for Thursday evening.

Those who cannot make it are encouraged to call the department’s social worker, Samantha Reif at 978-658-5071.

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt

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