Ocean City Today

Decades of experience between Arbin, Kovacs

By Kara Hallissey | Oct 12, 2017

This is the final story in an ongoing summer series about Ocean City Beach Patrol members and their other jobs. Ocean City lifeguards will return to their stands next season.

(Oct. 13, 2017) After being employed for multiple decades, Capt. Butch Arbin and Lt. Ward Kovacs have become the heartbeat of the Ocean City Beach Patrol.

Arbin, 61, of Parkville, Maryland, has been a member of the Ocean City Beach Patrol for 45 years and this past summer marked his 21st year as captain.

“Beach Patrol creates a feeling of significance after saving a life or returning a lost child, which kept me coming back each year,” Arbin said. “Now, watching and helping to develop other people become successful in life gives me a sense that I am making a difference with our employees.”

Arbin had an entire year to think about how awesome the Beach Patrol experience would be after spending time in the resort on vacation as a 14-year-old and envying the job of an Ocean City lifeguard before returning to Baltimore for the school year.

The following summer, his mother talked to the Ocean City Beach Patrol captain and set up a tryout date. The rest is, as they say, history.

“I get to watch all the pieces come together,” Arbin said. “Seeing our employees become successful is my favorite part. I write a lot of recommendations for the military, police academy and master’s degrees. There is nothing like seeing our people make a difference in the lives of others.”

Arbin credits the Ocean City Beach Patrol for setting a standard and instilling respect and leadership into young people every summer.

“Seeing the evolution and people change. We help them grow and move forward with their lives,” Arbin said. “What greater credit is there when people say, ‘I want my kids involved?’ It is a different kind of job. We’ve had third and fourth generations of families [on Beach Patrol.]”

This winter, at least four Beach Patrol tests are scheduled to take place at colleges and universities.

“It is a good experience and we really take our role as ambassadors for the Town of Ocean City seriously,” Arbin said. “People have a choice of where they want to vacation and we want them to come back.”

For the last 40 years, Arbin has worked for Charles County (Md.) Public Schools.

He was a physical education teacher before aiding at-risk kids and then helping configure network and internet components for the school system. Next, Arbin taught aerospace engineering before overseeing the engineering and technology program.

Arbin has been a technology resource teacher at the James E. Richmond Science Center in Waldorf for the last four years.

“I have two full-time careers,” Arbin said. “What makes Ocean City different from other beach patrols around the world is our mission includes education. The proactive education we do is critical and important. We hold high standards for our employees. It gives me a good feeling being successful as an organization.”

Kovacs, 55, of Pasadena, Maryland, has worked for the Ocean City Beach Patrol for 35 years.

He is the only full time, year-round employee and his duties shift depending on the season.

“Once you make that first rescue and you know the person would not have made it without you, no one can take that feeling way from you,” Kovacs said. “Being significant in the lives of other people. You didn’t just save that person. They are a brother, husband and father. Think of all the people you’ve touched from co-workers to neighbors. You saved what would have been a loss in their lives.”

During the offseason, Kovacs is responsible for maintaining all Beach Patrol properties and the vehicle fleet, including trucks, WaveRunners and Jet Skis.

Before Arbin returns for the summer and when he leaves to teach at the end, Kovacs is the officer in charge, he also has payroll and purchasing duties.

At the beginning of the summer, Kovacs is in charge of training for the new guards, making sure everything is running smoothly with the training academy and keeping up with the guards coming back for recertification each season.

When summer is in full swing, he directs the Junior Beach Patrol Academy, which had 205 kids finish the program this season. He also sponsors safety nights for J-1 students three nights a week.

“The thing I like most about the job is the day could be completely different than the next day,” Kovacs said. “One day, I can be elbow deep in a Jet Ski motor, and the next day I am running around on the beach with 30 Junior Beach Patrol members.”

This winter, Kovacs will travel and give beach safety presentations to seniors, schoolchildren and preschoolers.

“Each person we inform about rip currents is one person we don’t have to save and it might make students want to become a lifeguard some day,” Kovacs said.

Last winter, Kovacs relayed the beach safety message to Ocean City Elementary School students and every fourth grader in Wicomico County. This offseason, Kovacs will make presentations at Snow Hill and Worcester Technical High Schools.

Kovacs decided to try out for the Ocean City Beach Patrol when he was 21 years old.

He had been working in Ocean City for a couple of summers and met a sergeant who was on the Beach Patrol. In addition, a friend from his hometown challenged Kovacs to tryout.

They both passed the test and guarded next to each other.

“I still have friends I met 30 years ago on Beach Patrol,” Kovacs said. “It is fun for me to watch people who leave here and go on to do great things. It gives me a sense of pride being a part of their lives.”

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