Monday, May 23, 2016

Becoming a Lifeguard - Welcome to our World

by Sandy Kellogg

Aquatic Operations Supervisor, Mount Vernon RECenter
Fairfax County Park Authority
VRPS Aquatics Resource Group 2016 Chair
VRPS 2016 Awards Co-Chair

It’s hiring season in the pool world!  This time of year there is a fresh crop of young, enthusiastic lifeguards entering the world of aquatics, ready to save lives and make money doing it.  Some start as brand new employees, learning how to get to work on time and be responsible.  Others come back from their first year of college, ready to earn money to go back in the fall.  All are hoping for a fun, rewarding summer without too much drama.

Interviewing new staff can be very entertaining.  Applicants that couldn’t find a pen and thought a mostly illegible pencil would work are weeded out.  All are swim tested to eliminate candidates that can’t actually swim. Finally we all find ourselves across a table from a slightly nervous young person.  Desperate to sound enthusiastic and hirable most potential lifeguards answer this question the same way.  When asked “Why do you want to be a lifeguard?”  The answer is always two parts; “I like being around the water, and I love kids”.

Instead of moving into the specifics of training and hiring I really want to stop the process right there, and give this young person a hint at the reality of the job they are hoping to get.  Not only will they spend the summer being stressed and nervous at work, they will probably never again relax by a body of water.  They will forever be vigilant and watchful, sometimes without even knowing why.  On a cruise ship last Christmas I found myself scanning the 6 by 8 foot pool, a habit reinforced when I fished out a three year old whose family was busy at the bar.  Going to the beach will never be relaxing and fun, the waves, tides and murkiness make the possibility of someone slipping under and disappearing all too real.  And children?  They go from adorable little things splashing gleefully to tiny monsters desperately trying to drown, wandering into areas they cannot be while their parents binge watch something from the sidelines.  Diving into shallow water, breath holding competitions and our ever present call of “Walk!” will be what lifeguards remember from their summer job.

And yet, they will hopefully spend the summer knowing they made a difference, that the children were safer because they were there, that every reaching assist they did or lifejacket they fitted on a child saved a life.  Children will always be safer around them, they will always remember how quickly and quietly things can go badly at a pool.  Infant CPR will be the same whether they are on duty or a parent five years later.  Maybe that’s the message that I should make sure they get, along with welcome to the team.

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