JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Jacksonville beaches were filled with tens of thousands of people hitting the sand and the surf to celebrate Independence Day on Monday. People came from all over to soak up the sun, which means extra lifeguards, police and firefighters working to ensure everyone stayed safe.
The crowds were thick in Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beach as locals and out-of-towners alike came together for massive street parties and beach picnics. The streets were also packed with people riding bikes and scooters and skateboarding.
Neptune Beach resident Shannon Wooten said her family loves the beach.
“It’s the best place to be on the fourth,” Wooten said.
Wooten was celebrating her son Wilder’s first birthday and introducing him to the great sport of people-watching.
“It’s nice to have everyone back out and having fun. It’s a beautiful day,” Wooten said.
First responders recognize that more people mean more things to watch out for. Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue was prepared for the large crowds with 45 lifeguards spread up and down the coast.
“It’s hot, it’s sunny, people are going to be out for a long time. Our biggest concern is going to be staying hydrated. We certainly see you in this type of weather condition with this many people enjoying the Fourth of July heat emergencies. We have to stress no matter what you’re drinking, soda, alcohol, Gatorade, sugary drinks, stay hydrated with water,” Lt. Max Ervanian said.
Ervanian said water conditions calmed down from over the weekend, but there were still risks. Guards performed four rescues in the morning. Everyone was okay.
SKY4 showed a packed beach near the pier, people everywhere and first responders scattered throughout.
“I’ve never missed it,” said Sara Wright who’s been attending the beach celebrations since she was a child. “Maybe since I was like six or seven (years old).”
The crowds were a welcome sight for businesses. Restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels were full for the weekend. It was a boost for the local economy.
Jacksonville Beach police officers were also on the streets keeping watch of traffic and parties to protect locals and out-of-towners.
“Probably one of the biggest things we’re looking forward to making sure families don’t get separated. We typically have a lot of people when they get out here. There are a lot of people walking around, moving around and kids are getting separated from their parents. Obviously, that’s a really big concern of ours,” Deputy Jason Lamont said while patrolling on an ATV.
Neptune Beach police closed First Street to vehicular traffic for what’s become a famous bicycle-based party. Thousands hopped on two wheels and hit house parties up and down the residential road.
Lamont said officers were also making sure everyone was being cordial and peaceful. Commander Mike Key with the Neptune Beach Police did have a message for anyone looking for trouble.
“Everybody should come out here and enjoy themselves as we celebrate, but disorderly conduct is not going to be tolerated. Fighting is going to get you a free trip to jail, no doubt about it. Behave, bring your manners,” Key said.
Key said officers had safety measures in place to keep vehicles off the road and planned for the worst-case scenario of an attack.
Key’s small department brought in 20 officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to adjust for the large crowds. Jacksonville Fire and Rescue also staged on First Street in case someone needed medical attention.
Normally, when the sun goes down, so do the crowds. Not tonight. There is a fireworks celebration scheduled at 9 pm at Jacksonville Beach pier.
Police recommend coming early if you want to get the best views and good parking.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism