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July 6, 2021

Ogunquit lifeguards quit over management change

Courtesy / Ogunquit Ocean Rescue The Ogunquit Ocean Rescue Service saw many of its lifeguards walk off the job last week.

In protest over a change in management, many of Ogunquit’s town-paid lifeguards have quit their jobs just two weeks into the summer season.

Fourteen of the 35 or so guards in the Ogunquit Ocean Rescue Service resigned last week after their captain, John Paul "J.P." Argenti, was removed from that position, according to published reports.

Interim Town Manager Matthew Buttrick made the change in order for Ogunquit Fire Chief Russell Osgood to take over administrative responsibility for the lifeguard service, according to the Portsmouth Herald. Osgood reports to Buttrick.

Argenti, who has worked seasonally on Ogunquit Beach for 20 years and led the service for the past eight, had reported to the town manager. The shake-up was intended to reduce the number of personnel supervised directly through that position, Buttrick told the Herald.

"What I was trying to do was consolidate some departments and reduce the amount of direct reports to the town manager's office," he said during a public meeting last week. Argenti was not demoted, according to Buttrick.

Nevertheless, Argenti resigned last Tuesday. The 14 other full-time, part-time and per-diem guards then quit to demonstrate their objections to the leadership change, according to an unofficial Facebook post from the guard service employees.

Buttrick told the Herald the number was eight.

In the post, the guards said, “The interim town manager chose to remove JP from his position and give it to the Fire Chief without formal cause, notice, or a fair hearing. This had the effect of squashing the conversation without alternative solutions being offered, diminishing a dedicated employee, and adding a layer of bureaucracy between the public and the lifeguards who protect them.”

At the meeting last week, an assistant captain, Ethan Bedard, said he was immediately resigning because of the situation. 

"I find that, morally, the direction that the Ocean Rescue service is being pushed at this time is wrong," he said, according to the Herald.

The Ogunquit Ocean Rescue Service handles 300 to 500 water incidents each year, as well as an average of 20 medical rescues and over 300 first aid responses, according to the Facebook post.

The post, which went up Thursday, had received over 100 comments and been shared over 120 times by Tuesday morning.

Ogunquit Beach has often been named one of the country's top seashores, and this year was No. 7 nationally in a ranking by U.S. News & World Report.

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