What NJ rescuers will learn to prevent another deadly beach sand collapse
OCEAN GROVE — The Neptune Special Operations Team will be conducting a beach sand trench collapse rescue drill, Thursday, June 9 at the Ocean Grove beach north end at 7 p.m.
The team trains every year before the start of the summer beach season, but with the recent beach sand collapse tragedy in Toms River, they will be more focused, said Donald Colarusso, assistant deputy coordinator of the Neptune Township Office of Emergency Management.
Last month, an 18-year-old Maine resident visiting the Jersey Shore died after a large sand hole that he and his sister were digging collapsed around them. Police were called to a stretch of Toms River ocean beaches north of Lavallette. It took hours to recover the body of Levi Caverly. His 17-year-old sister survived.
Colarusso said Thursday night’s drill includes about 30 members of the operations team. Under the direction of Ocean Grove senior lifeguard Patrick Moses who delivers this training every year, they will simulate a victim who may have dug a deep hole in the beach sand.
For the past five years or so, they have worked with the Ocean Grove Beach Patrol Lifeguards and the Area Network of Shore Emergency Responders Team in arranging and attending this training.
They go through a variety of techniques to locate and access that victim. But there are challenges because the sand is soft and tough to manage, Colarusso said.
They do drills to move and control the sand, keep it from caving in, locate the victim, make sure the victim can breathe, and free them from the situation.
Colarusso said they train on a variety of different emergency incidents such as confined space rescues, structural collapses, cars into buildings, and vehicle extrication.
“But this is a high-risk, low-frequency event. Being able to talk about the tragic event in Toms River generates more interest with the members by saying, listen, this could happen. We’re not just here to train and go through this for no reason,” he said.
It can happen. It has happened and Colarusso said they need to be at their best, be ready, be proficient and be fully capable to handle such a situation.
He said bottom line is that people should not be digging deep holes or trenches on the beaches.
The sand is very unpredictable and there is the potential to collapse on someone. That preventive piece is the best way to keep a tragedy from unfolding, he added.
But if a bystander is nearby and sees a trench collapse, identifying where the victim is so responders can dig in the proper spot is so helpful.
“Think of how vast a beach is. If somebody goes under that, it’s going to be hard to exactly pinpoint where they are, so pinpointing them and marking where they’re at, and starting to remove that sand is key,” Colarusso said.
His responders are trained to not only pull the sand back but to get it out completely. They don’t stack the sand, they move it further back to give them room to operate.
Always be vigilant, he said. When lifeguards and law enforcement are on duty, they can spring into action and help during a beach digging incident that has gone wrong.
But after-hours when there is no supervision, is when people have the potential to put themselves in a dire situation.
Similar deaths and accidents have been reported on New Jersey beaches over the years. In 2012, a 12-year-old boy was killed after his sand tunnel collapsed on a Long Branch beach.