The new Imperial Beach Marine Safety Chief, Adam Chase, was a typical kid that grew up by the beach, surfed, boogie boarded and loved fishing. At 13, he was a junior lifeguard and jumped off the Ocean Beach pier as part of the training. By the time he was 15, he started doing triathlons, and in high school he competed against the best high school triathletes at a national championship in Hawaii.
Chase, who attended Torrey Pines High School, admits he was not a good swimmer when he started high school. “I started swimming, and the first year I was a fish out of water, the four years of swimming helped with triathlons,” he said. He was on the varsity swim team and graduated at 17 in 1991.
His first job was as a lifeguard for the city of Del Mar. He worked while taking college courses and first received an AA from Mira Costa College. He then attended Palomar College police academy and was later hired as a police officer at the college. “I was always a C student and struggled in high school and community college but got straight As at the academy. I realized I had a passion for law enforcement,” he explained.
Chase was hired by the city of Del Mar as a peace officer/park ranger in 2003, a job that included lifeguarding, search and rescue, cliff rescues and diving. “I never lost my lifeguarding skills,” he said.
After taking some years off from school, in 2007 Chase finished his BA in Public Administration with a law enforcement emphasis at Upper Iowa University and a few years later a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security with an emphasis in Public Health Preparedness from Penn state Hershey College of Medicine
In his position as chief, Chase is not one to stick to administrative work. “I’m the type of chief that responds to emergencies with the team,” he said. “I like being involved, it’s in my blood. I’m out here on weekends and holidays. On my first day all the staff was out and I was here with the seasonal lifeguards… There are seasonal lifeguards that have been doing this for 30 years and longer… they were really helpful,” he said.
The department has 9 permanent staff including Chase.
Chase’s first day was June 29. “All the lifeguards tell me it has been a different type of summer. [The beach] has mostly been closed due to contamination. That’s been a challenge,” he said. “We focus on education and information…to help and make it fun and relaxing. We’re here to make sure [people] are safe… This last week the beach has been open all week,” he said.
The positive part of being the new person on the team, coming from another city with different issues, is that Chase can see situations from a different perspective and can provide different insight and solutions.
“A common problem on the city beach are violations like drinking,” he said. About 50 percent of the rescues involve people that are intoxicated with alcohol or drugs.
“That’s why we don’t allow drinking on the beach and swimming after lifeguards go off duty,” he explained.
Recently a rescue was made of two people swimming in the middle of the night. Fortunately one the lifeguards who lives nearby responded as did the fire department.
A canopy has been placed near the Dempsey Holder Safety Center that reminds beachgoers to swim near a lifeguard tower. “There is tons of data that when you swim near a lifeguard people don’t drown,” said Chase.
In the summer, the lifeguards go on duty at 7 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Chase discussed some of the issues the lifeguards deal with. “Sometimes the pier is busier than the beach and if there’s a violation, a fight or medical emergency we’re the first ones there, some of the violations are related to fishing in the wrong areas, no alcohol is permitted, people cutting bait in unapproved areas. We have to make sure it’s addressed. If not it becomes a public safety concern,” he said.
Chase is familiar with Imperial Beach. He had been at the Dempsey Holder Safety Center for training when he was a lifeguard with the city of Del Mar and has done rescue and recovery missions with Imperial Beach lifeguards.
“I’m excited to be here having a background in law enforcement and rescue…I have experience dealing with fishermen, alcohol, skateboarders. I bring different techniques and ideas that weren’t here… I’ve been in a lot of different situations,” he explained.
When Chase worked as peace officer/park ranger he broke up parties on the beach by himself when extra help was not available and the only resource was a police helicopter and a search light.
“Things that seem impossible you can solve; you have to think outside the box,” he said.
An issue that he is currently dealing with in Imperial Beach are skateboarders at Pier Plaza. A lot of them are under 18 and are not wearing a helmet. Chase is looking at getting parents involved to help, possibly getting the courts involved and is trying to get a feel on how to solve this situation. “No doubt it will be solved,” said Chase.
Right now Chase has a long commute since he and his wife live between Carlsbad and South San Marcos, but the couple is getting ready to sell their home and move closer to Imperial Beach.
“The staff is tremendous, awesome, [they] welcomed me, made me feel at home. I’ve been here six weeks and I can’t wait to be here [everyday],” he said.