2007 Surf Festival Dinner Honorees
2007 Medal of Valor Honorees
Ocean Lifegaurd Lars Gustafson
On December 17, 2005, Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Lars Gustafson was training on a Personal Water Craft (PWC), south of the El Segundo jetty. While in the water, Lars noticed the lifeguard at Dockweiler south drive the truck toward the El Segundo pipe where a boat was nearing the surfline. Lars realized that the boat was in trouble. Lars responded on the PWC and the beach lifeguards attempted to reach the boat from the shore.
The wind was gusting at 25 mph and huge 10’ waves with periodic larger sets breaking on a shallow sand bar. The boat was about 150 to 200 yards off shore near the surfline. Lars did an excellent job of controlling the PWC in less than ideal conditions as he headed north to the boat at a speed in excess of 35 mph.
The boat and the two men aboard were in extreme danger. The engine on the 55’ fishing vessel was dead and the two men aboard had no ideal the kind of danger they were in. Lars gave them instructions to throw their anchor and jump off the boat. They threw the anchor but refused to leave the boat.
With a large set forming further out at sea, Lars made a decision, at great personal risk, to attempt to save the boat and the men from disaster. He threw his towline to one of the men and told him to tie it off. The boat was sideways in the surfline as Lars used the PWC to turn the boat into the waves. Lars made it over the first wave but the force of the wave on the fishing boat jerked the PWC backward with such force Lars was almost thrown from the watercraft.
AS he looked out to sea and saw the lines of a big set coming in, Lars knew he could withstand the weight of the boat pulling him back again and again. He, therefore, improvised and applied full throttle to the PWC until he was over the crest of the wave and then went full throttle in reverse to create slack in the line.
He did this over about 15 waves (any one of which could have sent him and the fishing boat over the falls and into the impact zone) before making it outside the surf. Lars continued to steadily tow the boat to about 600 yards off shore where he handed the fishing boat off to Baywatch Del Rey.
Lars showed great attentiveness, outstanding PWC skills, ocean knowledge, and great bravery as he prevented two people from serious injury or death and the loss of a $125,000 fishing boat.
Ocean Lifeguard Dave Shenbaum
On September 28, 1994, Dave Shenbaum and Lance Dempsey, assigned to Baywatch Isthmus on Catalina, were conducting a planned open water training dive near Emerald Bay. The plan was to dive to 100’. The conditions were excellent.
Suddenly, near the end of the dive, at about 94 feet, Lance could not draw air from his regulator. Every safety maneuver he tried proved unsuccessful. By the, over a minute had passed since he had exhaled his last breath. He signaled to his partner, Ocean Lifeguard Dave Shenbaum, that he was going up.
Lance made a controlled assent to about 50 feet and then his lungs began to convulse. Dave was about 10 feet below so Lance went back down to meet him and attempt to buddy breath. It didn’t work. Out of air, he was unable to purge the water from the regulator and his first breath was mostly salt water. This caused a spontaneous coughing spasm and the uncontrollable inhaling and exhaling of salt water. Before losing consciousness, Lance released his weight belt, opened his mouth hoping to avoid an embolism, and floated to the surface.
Dave, now starved for air himself, collected himself and made a controlled ascent to the surface. Once on the surface, Dave found Lance floating on his back with no pulse and not breathing. He immediately ditched the SCUBA gear and began CPR while towing Lance over 100 yards to the Baywatch where he was able to pull Lance onboard by himself.
Dave yelled for help and people on a nearby skiff came to assist. Dave cut the anchor, started the Baywatch, and gave instructions on how to operate the boat and all the while continued with CPR.
Once underway, Dave made a radio call to the Coast Guard to alert the Hyperbaric Chamber at the Isthmus that they were on their way. At the same time, miraculously, Lance began to take some spontaneous respirations. Dave stayed with him, giving him oxygen and imploring him not to slip away.
Upon arriving at the Chamber, Dave escorted Lance inside and attended to him throughout the 4-hour treatment. Lance was treated for both an air embolism and secondary drowning (saturation of the lungs with fluid). Keeping him conscious was critical to his survival. The pain and exhaustion Lance experienced were overwhelming. Dave understood this and kept Lance focused throughout the ordeal, reinforcing reasons for not giving up over and over again. Living was the only choice.
Lance survived the chamber and was air-lifted to Torrance Memorial Hospital where he made a full recovery. His first words to his wife Stacy, were “Dave Shenbaum saved my life.”
2007 Distinquished Service Honoree
Ocean Lifeguard Gavin Calder
On November 9, 2006, at 7:00 a.m., Gavin Calder arrived for his shift at Cabrillo Headquarters in San Pedro. No sooner had he arrived than a maintenance man who had been working in the area reported to Gavin that two fisherman had walked out on the breakwater and that enormous waves had washed them off the top and onto the inside harbor by the pier.
The location is not an area patrolled by the county but Gavin immediately drove to the pier for a look. When he arrived, he say one man clinging to the breakwater wall and attempting to hold onto another man who was almost under water. Both men were fully clothed in winter gear and had backpacks and fishing poles.
Gavin had three choices: (1) Dive off the pier at a very low tide; (2) Run out on the rock breakwater with waves breaking over the top, or (3) Swim 200 to 300 yards from the shore. He chose wisely. He decided to swim! He radioed to Baywatch Cabrillo and took off with two rescue cans.
Swimming to the victims, he found one man exhausted and unable to move. Both men were reluctant to drop their packs and fishing gear. Gavin gave one victim a can and told him to hang on while Gavin carefully took the other victim off the rocks. The Baywatch came on scene about that time and Gavin was able to swim both victims under the pier to the boat where they were taken aboard. Both men were taken to the hospital. One man was released that day and returned to the beach to thank Gavin for saving their lives.
2007 Lifetime Achievment Honoree
Lifeguard Section Chief Tom Viren
Tom Viren is the recipient of the 2007 Los Angeles County Lifeguard Lifetime Achievement award. Prior to becoming a Los Angeles County Beach Lifeguard in 1962, Tom Viren worked as a pool lifeguard at the El Segundo Plunge and then for one year as an ocean lifeguard for the City of Huntington Beach.
In 1962, Tom took the County exam and finished first in the rookie school. His first assignment as a recurrent lifeguard was in the Northern Section where he worked for four years. In 1966, Tom was promoted to permanent lifeguard and he continued to work at Zuma beach. Within a few years, Tom passed the Coast Guard Boat Operator’s exam and began to work on the Baywatch Rescue Boat. In 1970 and 1971, he worked on the boats at both Avalon and the Isthmus on Catalina Island and he became a member of the Underwater Search and Rescue Team.
It was during this period of time that Tom took on the responsibility of serving as President of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Association. At that time LACOLA was not an employee representative organization and the lifeguards were not represented in labor issues. Rather, they had an agreement with the Board of Supervisors to receive the same benefits as Deputy Sheriff’s.
As he was learning the ins and out of politics and the importance of community support, two major events took place. In 1974 and 1975 Santa Monica and then Los Angeles City Lifeguards were merged with L.A. County. At the same time, Tom was promoted to the position of Lieutenant and assigned to Dockweiler Beach.
When the Board of Supervisors ceased their agreement to treat the lifeguards in parity with the sheriffs in 1976 and former L.A. City Lifeguards attempted to create an employee organization, Tom began the successful campaign to have LACOLA certified as the official bargaining organization for the lifeguads. Tom then accepted the position as the Director of Employee Relations, a position he remained in until the mid 1980’s.
When Don Rohrer was appointed Chief Lifeguard in 1990, he promoted Tom to Section Chief and reassigned him to the administrative position at Lifeguard Division in Venice. In that position he was assigned to budget, supplies, facilities, communications, and information systems.
Tom worked in the background from 1992 to 1994 o convince Don Knabe to have the Board of Supervisors move the lifeguards from the Department of Beaches and Harbors to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. It seemed to Tom, as well as other, that this was the logical home for an organization with a public safety mission. The gal was achieved in June of 1994.
Nearing his retirement, Tom asked then Chief Lifeguard Randy DeGregori for an opportunity to transfer to a field Section Chiefs position. In 1998 Tom Viren returned to the Northern Section s Section where he had started his career in 1962. Tom retired in 2001.