Being a lifeguard is the perfect job, right? Sit in the sun and get a tan. That's all there is to it.
Or at least that is what some people seem to think. But being a lifeguard is so much different than that.
Yes, you sit in the sun and many lifeguards are tan. That tends to happen when you spend hours almost every day sitting outside.
But there is also a lot of training in the job to understand how to save people and to perform first aid, as well as being able to recognize when someone is drowning. And there is quite a bit of stress to being a lifeguard too.
Now, I will not deny that I have the perfect job working at North Shore Aquatic Center in North Ogden. It's a ton of fun and you work with a ton of cool people. But a lot of people go swimming there, and as part of your job, you better know when they might be drowning and how to save them without putting yourself or others at risk.
Here is some of the behind-the-scenes work of lifeguarding you may not know about.
Before you become a lifeguard, you go through a certification class. Some teachers are super easy and you fly through it, or so I've heard. But the best teachers make sure that you get it down, that you know what you are doing before you even get the chance to be on the chair or in the facility as a lifeguard.
Lucky enough for me, my teacher was like that. She made sure that we knew what we were doing before we were certified, helping me get my job. We have to know CPR, how to use an automated external defibrillator or AED, and how to treat a spinal injury.
At North Shore, we train every Friday morning before the pool opens. We go to two trainings per month, or our hours get cut until we can make up the missed sessions.
At these trainings, we make sure that we understand everything and can do it in seconds. One thing we practice most seems to be spinals, but that's for the best since those are the situations when we need to be beyond high alert and ready for anything to happen. And we still go through CPR, AED, first aid and how to help choking victims.
On the chair
You do everything to the best you can in the training, but inside you know that it is just training. But when the pool is open to the public and there are little kids everywhere, you know that this is the real deal and kids do start to drown for a number of different reasons.
Also, depending on the day, we can get super packed. Then it can get pretty stressful, having to watch on really high alert to make sure that nobody starts to drown.
We always have nine guards out on different points around the pool, which are labeled A through I. Besides those stations we have three guards on break in the first aid room in case of emergency. We rotate stations every 20 minutes, and after three stations, you get a break station.
Sure, it's a nice thing to work an hour and get a 20-minute break. But if some kid comes bleeding into the first aid room and needs medical attention, you are not on break anymore. All guards will stand up and two will help the injured person while another fills out a paperwork report that is required in any kind of incident, whether it is a save or first aid.
On high alert
There is another major scenario where you are definitely not on break anymore.
If someone shows signs of drowning, you hear one long whistle from the lifeguard who is in charge of that area and then that guard is in the water, rescuing the child. The whistle gets relayed all the way to station A, on the beach front, where that guard sounds a long whistle. When the guards at the break station hear that, they have to be heading out the door.
The first guard will grab a lifeguard tube that we have hanging next to the door and step up onto the chair the rescuer was on to make sure there are no other saves that happen with no one to take care of them. The second lifeguard will have the first aid bag in case the person has an injury. The third will have the paperwork and will stay with that person until it is filled out.
Ready to go
And it isn't some kind of leisurely walk to the site of the save -- we go full-on sprint to get there. There are many times I'm trying to go so fast that I almost trip; one time, I accidentally knocked over a child who suddenly moved in my way when I was heading to a rescue. That is probably my most embarrassing moment as a lifeguard.
All the guards out on chair will point to the site of the save for you to go to. And there is only one thing that really sort of ticks me off in this emergency situation. Once there was a save and I pointed with the rest of the guards out there, and a girl in my area of water and her friend headed over to the rescue site as fast as they could to watch. That seems so wrong to me. A person was drowning and they should have the most privacy possible, not have a crowd standing there watching it like a show.
Lifeguarding isn't all just a bunch of work though. When we clean the pool or nobody is around, we goof off a lot with each other. Dump ice down each other's shirts, soak each other with water, and just act like a bunch of teenagers.
But just because we get that goof-off time doesn't make our job any easier for us. So those of you who think it's the easiest thing in the world, you would be wrong.
Bryant Studebaker will be a senior at Weber High School this fall. He likes swimming and playing water polo. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.