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Emergency System Changes Following Norton Point Swimming Death

Edgartown's emergency broadcast system will be expanded to help link responders.

Edgartown's emergency broadcast system will be expanded to include broadcast capabilities for EMTs, lifeguards and the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) employees, following a meeting last week attended by about 35 TTOR and Edgartown public safety officials.

The action follows the July 2 of a 34-year-old Watertown man who was swimming with a companion at the breach between and in Edgartown.

Edgartown police chief Tony Bettencourt began working to provide broadcast capabilities after the meeting, said Marilyn Wortman, director of Edgartown's park department.

The park department oversees safety for the town's beaches, including South Beach. The Trustees of Reservations manages both Norton Point and Wasque beaches adjacent to South Beach.

Wortman oversees 26 lifeguards on South Beach and at Bend in the Road beach adjacent to Oak Bluffs.

Until yesterday's action, safety personnel for TTOR and EMTs had been able to monitor the emergency frequency for years, yet had not been able to broadcast directly on it and called the Island's communications center to report emergencies.

“We are going to institute a new system for telephone communications, a better way to talk with each other. Trustees need to be able to broadcast, as well as EMTs, lifeguards and others. Chief Bettencourt is going to meet with the Sherriff's department ” Wortman said.

The Dukes County Sheriff's Department supervises the Island-wide public safety communications center.

“This [expansion] would not have prevented the tragedy, but it is a good step,” Wortman said. “No one should be swimming in that breach. We threw a 180-pound dummy into the water there recently as a test and it was 100 yards offshore in 30 seconds and that breach is not going away soon,” she said. “Everyone who went on the beach that day was told not to go near the rip.”

The Trustees of Reservations closed the Norton Point beach to swimmers and waders after Michael Romm and a female companion were swept offshore by fast-moving current flowing around a sandbar in the widening four-year-old breach. A private boat picked them up and Romm reportedly suffered cardiac arrest.

“One of our lifeguards administered CPR. He [Romm] had swallowed a lot of seawater, he was in tough shape,” Wortman said.

Other towns reported no changes to their beach safety policies. Most towns have a posted "swim at your own risk" policy and minimal lifeguard coverage. Aquinnah does not employ lifeguards and Oak Bluffs decommissioned its lifeguards two years ago for financial reasons.

“We have a lifeguard on duty at , but most beaches have a 'swim at your own risk' posting,” Tim Carroll, executive secretary for Chilmark said. “We do have first-aid and CPR training for beach attendants who are not lifeguards at and ,” he said.

Carroll said attendants at Lucy Vincent Beach keep an eye on the cliff areas at high tide.

Carroll said the town has observed a "lemming" effect at Lucy Vincent, which can draw beach walkers to try to pass between the cliffs and waves crashing against them.

West Tisbury posts lifeguards at beach but not at .

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