Keeping watch

Written by Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate November 25, 2013 05:47 pm

Lifeguard Alex Pearson, left, teaches a swimming lesson for Redwood School fourth-graders Friday: “The coolest place to work as a teenager.”
Lifeguard Alex Pearson, left, teaches a swimming lesson for Redwood School fourth-graders Friday: “The coolest place to work as a teenager.” Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
City pool reduces hours until it can hire additional lifeguards

A lifeguard shortage at the Fred Endert Municipal Pool will affect its hours next month.

The pool will be closing at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday starting Dec. 2, said Pool Manager Matt Hildebrandt. The early closure will continue until he is able to hire more lifeguards.

That will affect aerobics, exercise and lap swimming on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and families and lap swimming on Tuesday nights.

“We are looking for five at this point,” he said, adding a lifeguard’s wages start at $8.25 per hour. “I currently have 10 and normally we have 15. So right now I need five, and I have a couple more people who are supposed to be leaving around the first of the year.”

Hildebrandt stood on the pool’s deck Friday as four lifeguards watched over fourth-graders from Redwood School. It was the last day of swimming lessons for the youngsters, so the lifeguards, who were also their instructors, allowed them some extra playtime. 

Most of the pool’s lifeguards are in college or high school, Hildebrandt said. To be a lifeguard, they must be punctual and mature. They must also be strong swimmers, able to continuously swim six laps of the swimming pool, he said. 

Lifeguards also must be able to swim to the bottom of the deep end, grab a 10-pound brick and take it back to their starting point, Hildebrandt said. They must also be able to tread water without their hands for two minutes, he said.

Once hired, lifeguards must also attend a 26-hour skills course where they become certified in first aid and CPR for the professional rescuer, Hildebrandt said. They also learn which method to use in different rescue situations, he said.

“If they have an active drowning victim, then there’s a certain rescue for that person,” he said. “If it’s a passive (rescue), someone floating unconscious, there’s a particular rescue for that. It just depends on the circumstances.”

Assistant pool manager Kelsey Thompson, right: “Not your typical office.”
Assistant pool manager Kelsey Thompson, right: “Not your typical office.” Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
There has not been a drowning or a near-drowning in the pool’s 47 years, Hildbrandt said. Still, lifeguards must be prepared.

“Typically what we encounter here at the pool are kids who get in over their head,” he said. “You see a deer in the headlights look in their face, they get a little panicky, so you’re handing them the rescue tube, helping them to the side and reminding them to stay where they can touch.”

Responding if a swimmer has a seizure is also common, Hildebrandt said. If someone has a seizure while he or she is in the water, a lifeguard will issue three short blasts from his whistle, enter the pool and support the person with the head out of the water until the seizure is over, Hildebrandt said.

“If they’ve submerged before the lifeguard got to them then we call 911 and have an ambulance come,” he said. “If their head never went under the water we talk to them and ask them how they would like to handle it.”

Lifeguards can also recognize stroke and diabetic issues, Hildebrandt said. There is always a lifeguard on duty at the pool, he said.

Alex Pearson, who has been a lifeguard for three years, watched over the fourth-graders in the pool, handing out the occasional warning if a youngster happened to be running. He will be leaving his job at the end of December to attend the police academy at College of the Redwoods in Eureka. 

“It’s the coolest place to work as a teenager,” Pearson said, adding that Hildebrandt encouraged him to become a lifeguard. 

In addition to making sure no one gets hurt, lifeguards teach the pool’s swim lessons and aerobics classes, Pearson said. They also act as janitors sometimes, he said.

“It’s more than just being a lifeguard,” he said

Kelsey Thompson became a lifeguard at 15 and after working off and on for four years while attending school, she is now the pool’s assistant manager. When she was fresh on the job, she had to learn how to do proper rescues, including caring for head, neck and back injuries and different ways to get people out of the water. Training is ongoing for lifeguards, Thompson said.

“We train as a staff every month,” she said. “We also train on our own.”

Becoming the pool’s assistant manager means having extra duties in addition to lifeguarding, Thompson said. This includes overseeing the other lifeguards, she said. But the job isn’t something Thompson would trade.

“I love the environment,” she said. “It’s not your typical office.”

Hildebrandt said he will be scheduling another lifeguard training class for December. Anyone who is interested in being a lifeguard should call the pool at 464-9503.

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