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Keeping Campbell River lifeguards sharp

Is there any cooler job than being a lifeguard? They all seem young and fit. They get to wear shorts and t-shirts to work and stand around in watchful poses looking all flinty-eyed and authoritative.

Yep, you’re thinking: nice work if you can get it.

But Susan Bullock, Strathcona Gardens’ manager of programs, wants you to know that there’s more to being a lifeguard than you realize.

“A lot of people think they’re all 16-year-olds and they stand around like this (leans with elbow against a wall),” Bullock says.

But the truth is Strathcona Gardens’ lifeguards are a mix of ages – from 16 to 40-something. They’ve also paid their dues to get the job. It costs $2,250 in courses and takes 278 hours of course time to become qualified to get a job as a lifeguard at Strathcona Gardens, Campbell River’s swimming pool, arena and recreation complex.

And once they’ve got the job, they have to keep working at it to keep it.

Case in point was Sunday morning where 21 Strathcona Gardens lifeguards and two supervisors were participating in a quarterly inservice training session.

“Certification as a NLS (National Lifeguard Service) lifeguard is not the end of a lifeguard’s education but, rather, the beginning,” Bullock says.

After initial training, lifeguards have to stay good and get better at what they do. To stay good, they practice skills, apply knowledge and use problem solving, decision making and judgement.

“To get better, lifeguards have to learn, grow and develop both personally and professionally.”

It’s more than a part-time, after school job. It involves providing both lifeguarding duties and swimming instruction.

“A lifeguard’s job requires a high degree of judgement, knowledge, skill and fitness in both day-to-day guarding and in the stress of an emergency,” Bullock says.

Inservice training helps sustain the lifeguard’s confidence in their ability to prevent accidents and to respond competently when they do occur.

So, on Sunday morning 21 lifeguards were put through their paces being tested in their abilities to respond to emergency situations. Two guards were put on duty at a time while all the other lifeguards were in the pool “playing” with various floating pool toys.

The on-duty guards had to spot when one of them begins mimicking being in distress. In a cluttered pool, it’s not so easy to detect somebody slipping under the surface.

Once a guard detects the distressed swimmer, she blows her whistle to draw the other guard’s attention, indicates where the situation is and then plunges into the pool to effect a rescue. The guards are timed for how long it takes to recognize the emergency and then assessed on the action they took. They then receive direct feedback from the supervisors.

Providing lifeguarding duties at the pool is only part of the job. Strathcona Gardens lifeguards are also swimming instructors. So, besides being a reliable and well trained professional, Gardens lifeguards also need to be good communicators with people of all different ages, Bullock says. You have to like kids in particular.

“It’s a fun job. You can’t be a grouchy person, you’ve got to be outgoing and fun,” she says.

So, maybe some of the stereotype does apply. Being fit and personable is part of the job. And so is being cool – in the sense of being watchful and cool under pressure. Somebody’s life may depend on it.

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The Week — Oct. 27

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