BERKELEY – The weather was picture perfect for most of Labor Day weekend and beaches in the township were well patrolled with some new faces – and some old friends.
It was a difficult weekend for the members of the township beach patrol following the tragedy of when lightning struck an aluminum lifeguard stand during a sudden storm on August 30, killing 19-year-old Keith Pinto.
His funeral was held on September 4 and was attended by friends and family – including many of his fellow lifeguards.
Berkeley Township Recreation Department Director Mark Dykoff said that with the locals attending the funeral, other lifeguards stepped in from other towns to fill in.
Tom Kushner was among those who helped out. He normally serves as an Island Beach State Park lifeguard. He previously served with the Berkeley Township squad and said he was happy to return and assist in the effort during Labor Day weekend.
Xaiver Moran of the Cape May Beach Patrol and Branden Saccio, a guard at IBSP, were also recruited for the shortfall.
“We heard what happened here and our organization is very strong so we all pitched in,” Saccio said. DJ Draus, a lifeguard from Belmar, took a day’s shift as well.
“It was pretty busy where we were this summer. Everyone wanted to get outside again. We are definitely a tourist destination,” Moran added.
“Dominic Fraulo (of Bayville) was a rookie here last year and he moved over to Island Beach State Park this year,” Dykoff said. “ISBSP is lending him to us for the weekend.”
This summer has been an unusual one for South Seaside Park so far as attendance went. “Our dailies are way down. I’m not sure about our seasonals. Last year we had to limit our dailies to 50 per beach. We are dictated by Island Beach State Park. Last year they reduced their attendance and consequently what happened was we got their overflow,” Dykoff said.
He added that “we operate three stands with two (lifeguards) each and we normally man with 16 lifeguards per season.”
Trevor Good, who was originally from Bayville and who now lives in Delaware, was another former Berkeley lifeguard who came to help.
“Trevor helped us get everything organized yesterday morning when our captain and others were at the funeral and he really took charge and helped us out,” Dykoff added.
Pitching in for the weekend was a bit bittersweet, Good said, given the circumstances. He had trained with Keith Pinto.
“Coming back to help was the least I could do. It was a way to help in a small way,” Good said. “He was a good kid. A fantastic guy from a good family. It was tragic all the way around. Once you are a guard you are one for life. We have some who haven’t been guards in five years but they came back to help for this specific weekend which was really a nice thing I think.”
“It has always been a very close-knit family here compared to other beaches and that is why I think we came back to show our support this weekend,” he added.
Good said, “it is a beautiful thing to see all these other guards from Cape May and Belmar, Long Branch and IBSP. The support they showed was awesome.”
Fellow lifeguard Steve Swenson sat beside Good watching the waves and those swimming in them that morning. He noted, “it is heart breaking and a bittersweet thing but it goes to show you how deep the roots are for lifeguarding in New Jersey. Everybody comes out to support one another. We really do have each other’s backs.
“This is a huge tragedy for the community a huge tragedy for such a young life to be lost but I’m proud to come here and help and do what I can to assist these guys in the last days of the summer and represent Belmar,” he said.