When the time came for Lifeguard Section Chief Mickey Gallagher to retire, he realized what a workaholic he had been. He loved his job, the beach, diving and the adrenaline rush of the emergency scene ever since this 59-year-old discovered the thrill of the lifeguarding profession.
As a 17-year-old student at Venice High School, he was a competitive swimmer. His coach encouraged all members of the school’s swim team to try out for the upcoming lifeguard test with the City of Los Angeles. It was the Summer of 1972, and for the first time, the City opened up the lifeguarding opportunity to 17-year-olds. Gallagher would not turn 18 until that October, so he decided to jump at the chance to test.
“It was perfect timing for me,” says Gallagher, who has spent the past 42 years as a professional lifeguard. “My first assignment was Will Rogers Beach. When the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica consolidated their lifeguarding operations with the County of Los Angeles in 1975 at the then Department of Beaches, I joined the County team.”
Drawing back upon his earliest experiences as a deck hand, Gallagher enjoyed being on the boats “where the action is” and, in 1977, became heavily involved in Lifeguard’s diving operations as a member of this special team.
“Back in the 1950s, Los Angeles County had the only public safety dive team in the United States,” he says. “I tried to bring it to the next level and bring the Fire Department’s Incident Command System into lifeguarding operations by preplanning for a variety of incidents, including missing swimmers, airplane crashes and other maritime operations.”
On July 1, 1994, the County lifeguard team merged into the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and Gallagher continued to enjoy a great career helping others. In 2004, he was promoted to Section Chief and served in the Lifeguard Division’s Central Section until his decision to retire this year.
As Gallagher began to process his retirement paperwork, he realized that he had over 350 hours of comp time on the books that he would lose, and also over 300 hours of sick time that he would not be compensated for as he left County service. Rather than just walking away, he decided to donate those 728 hours, valued at close to $50,000, to three County employees on long-term illness or injury.
“My first choice would have been to give those hours to non-represented Fire Department employees, but no one came up at the time,” says Gallagher. “There were three employees at different County organizations, including the Chief Executive Office, Auditor-Controller and LACERA. Each employee received 242 hours.
“The job’s been good to me and it gave me an opportunity to give back to County employees who need it,” he adds. “I was fortunate that in my 42-year-career I had no illness and only took some vacation.”
Now retired, Gallagher has plenty of what he just donated: time.