Hatteras Island is fortunate enough to have two water rescue squads. Today, we are introducing you to the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad Buxton Station crew. These are the folks you see cruising the beach in the tricked-out white trucks, towing a jet ski or utility terrain vehicle, carrying a rescue board on top. Manned by men and women looking all buff and laid back, it looks like Baywatch Outer Banks, right? The red swimsuits, the rescue equipment, the friendly faces: Sure, on the surface, it looks like everybody’s dream summer job. But here are the facts, folks.
I heard this story from a visitor a few years ago:
“We were on the beach with our family Thursday evening after dinner. Another family was swimming when a couple of them got swept out in a rip. We called 911. It was really scary to watch. One teenager made it back to shore, but the dad kept getting pulled under, waaay out there. Pretty quick here comes a surfer over the dune, carrying his surfboard. He dove right in the water and paddled out to the dad. This wasn’t 10 minutes after we called 911. We figured he must have been planning to surf and it was just lucky he came over the dune right there. He got the dad up on his board and paddled him in as the rescue truck was coming down the beach. We heard another siren behind the dune that turned out to be an ambulance. That dad sure was lucky that guy decided to surf there that evening.”
So here’s the real story. That surfer is actually on the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad, and he just happened to live in between the station and the place where the dad was in trouble in the water. When 911 calls go out, the dispatcher gives a location, such as “end of Robin Lane, Frisco.” So while the rest of the crew headed to the station to get the jet ski, the surfer dude knew it was quicker to just grab his own board and drive his own truck than to go to the station. So he headed out to the beach from home. Now that’s dedication – and that’s our Hatteras Island Rescue Squad.
These lifesavers work HARD. Starting in the spring, when the winds shift south and the water warms up, the training begins for the crew. New hires are brought on board and brought up to speed
on fitness and technique. There are generally six to eight people on the crew, depending on who applies and qualifies each year. The current captains are both certified EMT personnel, and everyone is trained in CPR. Over the winter, the equipment is serviced and replaced if needed. Trucks get new tires, jet skis get engines rebuilt.
The Hatteras Island Rescue Squad (HIRS) is a non-profit organization with a long history on Hatteras Island. Established in the 1980s, funding for trucks, jet skis, and all the equipment, basic expenses, and building maintenance for the organization comes from the real estate tax Hatteras Island homeowners in the villages of Hatteras, Frisco, Buxton and Avon pay to Dare County.
The summer ocean rescue service is funded solely from donations. Once upon a time, it was all volunteer. These days, the rescue crew gets a small stipend between Memorial Day and Labor Day. They work at least 40 hours a week in the summer. The rest of the year, when they are participating in continuing education, spring training, or actually still running rescues, it’s on their own time.
Chicamacomico Banks Water Rescue is located in Rodanthe, and is the northern Hatteras Island counterpart of HIRS. The National Park Service also has lifeguards stationed at two Hatteras Island beaches, in Buxton and Frisco. Between the two mobile water rescue squads and the National Park Service lifeguards, Hatteras Island, part of America’s first National Seashore, is fairly well covered in ocean rescue services.
Here’s how you can help.
- Follow Hatteras Island Rescue Squad on Facebook, and if the rip current is elevated, stay out of the water. Dabble your toes, but no deeper, please. The pebbly areas or deeply wet sand can sink from under you, and a knee-deep wade can turn deadly pretty quick.
- If you dig holes on the beach, just for fun or for a beach fire, fill them in. If the rescue truck needs to reach someone on the beach, they do not need extra obstacles. And at night, the holes are impossible to see. Seconds count when someone is trying to stay afloat, and not fill their lungs with saltwater.
- Keep an eye on the kids. Better to not need to dive in to grab a flailing youngster. Way too many double rescues start when someone attempts a rescue, and gets into trouble themselves.
- And if you’re on the highway and see the lights and sirens coming down the road, for Heaven’s sake, pull over. The patrol may be in Avon when a call comes in for Frisco, and they need to get there fast. We have two lanes here, and not a lot of room to bob and weave. These rescue drivers are highly trained, but we really do not need to make it harder for them. They have a beach to navigate once they get off the pavement. Do your part and get the heck out of the way!
- If you want to participate either on land or as part of the rescue crew, you can show up at the Buxton Station on the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. New faces are always welcome!
- If you want to contribute money here’s the address for donations: HIRS, PO Box 639, Buxton, NC 27920