REDONDO BEACH, CA — When the pandemic hit, lifeguards in Los Angeles left their coastal posts to step into a new role: running the coronavirus testing sites in LA County. Now, the community is recognizing their sacrifices and courage.
Several Los Angeles County Fire Department ocean lifeguards were honored for demonstrating extraordinary bravery and selfless service to the community in the coronavirus pandemic during a virtual presentation from the 2020 International Surf Festival.
The group recognized the heroes despite canceling the annual South Bay Cornerstone Four Day Summer Event.
"These acts of heroism would have typically been recognized during the ISF’s Lifeguard Medal of Valor dinner, the highly-anticipated kick-off to the annual Surf Festival which is held each year at the beginning of August," according to a news release from the organization.
The awards were celebrated via video commentary offered by colleagues of the lifeguards who were honored—a true sign of the socially distanced times.
"In addition to the Medal of Valor, awarded to Ocean Lifeguard Nick Macko, the Distinguished Service Award was presented posthumously to Assistant Chief Lifeguard Russell D. Walker," the group announced. "A DSA was also presented to the group of Lifeguards who organized COVID-19 testing sites and assisted with Project Room Key homeless shelter placement."
Throughout the pandemic, lifeguards have stepped up to help LA County communities.
“Though the COVID-19 era may have changed the way the awards are presented this year, the contributions made by these Ocean Lifeguards aren’t any less noteworthy or inspirational,” said Rob McGowan, President of the International Surf Festival. “In fact, the Lifeguards have risen to these new challenges to expand the meaning of exemplary effort above and beyond the line of duty.”
“From the massive undertaking of organizing COVID-19 testing sites and helping the homeless find shelter during the pandemic, to making life-threatening rescues in the most unpredictable force in Nature – the Ocean – these honorees exhibited the embodiment of bravery and selfless commitment to the community," organizers said. "It is our honor to recognize these very deserving individuals.”
Lifeguards have helped to run coronavirus testing locations in the county.
“We’ve asked so much of our lifeguards during this pandemic, from running L.A. County’s COVID-19 testing sites, to getting Project Room Key off the ground,” said LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn. “They’ve been on the front lines of our response to this virus and through it all they’re still doing what they do best, guarding our coastline and protecting beachgoers.”
Here are the following awards:
Medal of Valor: LA County Fire Department Ocean Lifeguard Nick Macko for the harrowing rescue of a swimmer caught in the notorious Palos Verdes underwater caves. With rising surf and incoming tide, Macko successfully pulled the swimmer and himself to safety.
Distinguished Service Award: Assistant Chief Lifeguard Russell D. Walker for decades of noteworthy contributions to the Lifeguard Division, including the creation of the WATER (Water Awareness Training Education and Recreation) Program, an outreach effort to inner-city youth to encourage ocean (and pool) safety through in the water participation. Walker also mentored young lifeguards and encouraged their involvement in the community.
Distinguished Service Award: The COVID-19 L.A. County Fire Dept Ocean Lifeguard Response Team which participated in 35 testing sites throughout L.A. County, and assisting with Project Room Key, a program which housed more than 2,500 people in 30 hotels around L.A. County.
The Lifeguard Medal of Valor Awards is sponsored by the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce. Before the pandemic, the dinner was held at the Seaside Lagoon in Redondo Beach.
“The Chamber is honored to recognize these courageous lifeguards, and to have served as the venue for the Festival kick-off for the past 39 years,” Dominik Knoll, president/CEO of the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce said. “We are fortunate to have such dedicated professionals protecting our beaches.”
The International Surf Festival is presented by BEACHSPORT.org, the Chambers of Commerce and Cities of Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and Torrance, as well as the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
The ISF promotes the four South Bay beach cities, the world’s finest lifeguard service, and physical fitness for thousands of its participants. The three signature events for the festival are the Judge Taplin Lifeguard Medley Relay, the Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim, and the Charley Saikley 6-Man Volleyball Tournament. Other great events include a surfing contest, bodysurfing contest, beach run, paddleboard races, dory race, and youth events.
Check out these video tributes and stories of the award recipients: