‘This isn’t a job where you can relax’

  • Future pilot brings same approach to beach patrol job

    Monday, August 19, 2019
    RJ Hayman has been a lifeguard for 4 years

    UMES aviation student Russell Hayman's middle name is Joseph, but it could just as easily be “vigilant.” 

    That was the case on Independence Day 2019, when Hayman was involved in the rescue of a critically injured teen face down in the Atlantic Ocean. 

    “RJ,” as he's widely known, has been a lifeguard with the Ocean City Beach Patrol for four years and is a crew chief responsible for colleagues who man stands from 35th street to 43rd street. 

    From his 38th street post, Hayman witnessed 19-year-old Ben Paepcke dive awkwardly into the surf on July 4.  He and Matt Egley, a first-year lifeguard who Hayman happened to be supervising at the time, sprang into action. 

    Hayman recalled being uneasy watching Paepcke enter the water head first at the surf's edge.  It was low tide. 

    Paepcke broke the C5 vertebra in his neck and was in danger of drowning when the guards carefully pulled him from the water. 

    “The response of RJ's crew showed he had prepared them for any scenario,” said Capt. Butch Arbin, the resort's long-time lifeguard chief. 

    “The first (person) to arrive was a rookie,” Arbin said, “yet he performed like a veteran, which shows the type of training that he received -- and was practiced under RJ's direction.” 

    Rescuers employed the “shallow water neck/back extraction (technique), where,” Hayman said, “we are preventing further damage to the spinal cord.” 

    “We spend multiple days training … to do (this) each season.  It's very intense and we can't afford room for error,” he said. 

    Anne Hofmann, the mother of one of Paepcke's friends who was on the beach that day, told journalists the lifeguard response she witnessed was almost instantaneous.

    UMES-trained pilot R.J. Hayman is an Ocean City lifeguard crew chief

    “Honestly,” Arbin said, “I believe the care Ben received saved his life, and minimized the extent of his injuries.” 

    Hayman said, “The training we received immediately kicked in.  You have one-to-two seconds to make a judgment call.” 

    “Our job, from that point,” he said, “was getting his airway exposed so he could breathe and (to) hold his head steady.” 

    Hayman grew up in Ocean City, the middle child of a veteran pilot who travels the world flying wide-body McDonnell Douglass MD-11 jets transporting packages.  It turns out the elder Hayman also worked nine summers as an Ocean City lifeguard. 

    After RJ graduated from Stephan Decatur High School in 2015, he initially enrolled at Towson University thinking his career path was teaching history.  His particular interest - no surprise - is World War II aviation. (The B-17 is his favorite aircraft.). 

    Hayman, 21, realized he also had flying in his genes and transferred to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to pursue an aviation science degree with a concentration in becoming a pilot. 

    “At first, I took (what my father did) for granted,” Hayman said.  “But as I got older, I found that it's not such a bad career.” 

    Being aloft, he said, is “a whole different feeling.” 

    Flying, Hayman said, demands intense concentration and attention to detail.  Working as a lifeguard requires many of those same skills because one person is responsible for the safety of hundreds of bathers along a two-block stretch of beach and an unpredictable ocean. 

    “I'd say it's the perfect summer job for me,” he said, “because you have a huge responsibility - just like you do when you are flying.” 

    Hayman said he wishes more of his peers would consider working as an Ocean City lifeguard because the experience “can teach you a lot of important life skills I know will be important to me down the line.” 

    He has already qualified to fly single-prop planes and has logged 200 hours of flight time, including 20 as a solo pilot.  He also has his instrument rating credentials and is now eyeing certification to fly dual propeller planes before his anticipated graduation in the spring 2020. 

    Paepcke, the injured swimmer, is at a rehabilitation facility in Denver where he's receiving intense therapy for symptoms of paralysis. His long-term recovery prognosis is unclear. 

    Hayman said he tries not to dwell on what befell Paepcke that day, but does monitor a Go Fund Me page to track his progress. 

    “One big difference in this situation, compared to most others in my 47-year history with the patrol,” Arbin said, “is RJ's continued care of the family and Ben.  Ninety-nine percent of all cases leave the beach and we have no additional contact with the family.” 

    “This incident has impacted RJ and his crew to such an extent that they are participating in fund-raising and awareness for Ben and his family,” Arbin said.  “Having worked with RJ's dad, I would not expect anything less.” 

    Several days after that Paepcke rescue, Hayman helped pull another swimmer from the water who also was face down and apparently experienced what he was told might have been a seizure. 

    “This isn't a job where you can relax for one second,” Hayman said.  “At the end of the day, we did everything we were trained to do.”

    His experiences this summer have been “a huge learning moment for me in my life,” he said.  “Hopefully we can prevent things like this from happening again.”