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This spring, Manatee County Marine Rescue accepted Florida’s No. 1 Beach Patrol of the Year award from the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association.

The 16-lifeguard patrol includes EMTs, paramedics, rescue divers, Coast Guard captains and one certified dive master. Manatee County was the first in the state to turn paramedics into lifeguards, Manatee County Marine Rescue Chief Joe Westerman says, which means fast medical response on the county’s 27 miles of coastline. The unit also finds lost children, helps boaters in distress, nurses stingray wounds, watches over playgrounds, takes care of gunshot victims—yes, this has happened—as well as helps swimmers in trouble.

Last year Manatee Marine Rescue saved 84 people in the water, responded to 3,075 medical emergencies and intervened in more than 16,000 other incidents to prevent water accidents. To qualify, lifeguards need to swim 500 meters in less than 10 minutes, run a half mile in less than three and a half minutes and rescue a victim 100 yards offshore. Every morning, they train on the beach.

Westerman says the Baywatch stereotype for lifeguards is passé, but we watched Manatee’s beach patrol train this spring and that sexy, chiseled image still fits.

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