Lifeguards show the job is more than just a day at the beach


July 14, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WANTED: energetic, caring individuals in excellent physical condition. Required: knowledge of first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation and ability to rescue people of all sizes from water. Willing to work long hours in hot sun or chilly rain. Must possess excellent customer service skills; knowledge of rules for Sharks & Minnows, Four-Square, Marco Polo and other children's games a plus. Minimal financial compensation. Fringe benefits include great tan.

If that sounds like the ideal job to you, you could be a lifeguard for the Columbia Association.

The association employs 220 lifeguards to staff its 23 outdoor pools and the Swim Center in Wilde Lake.

Harper's Choice resident Adam Scott, 19, is manager and swim-team coach for the pool in Thunder Hill. Off-season, he attends Howard Community College and works full time at the Swim Center. He has been employed as an association lifeguard for four years.

As pool manager, Adam checks pH and chlorine levels, provides for adequate staffing, keeps the water and surrounding areas clean and, of course, is prepared to rescue swimmers in distress.

But, he says, "The best part of the job is working with people and seeing little kids having fun."

Children at the pool call on him to mediate disputes in poolside games of Four-Square -- played with a big rubber ball on a hard surface -- or volleyball. He is camp counselor, surrogate parent and role model at the pool.

"I try to do what's right," he says. "I tell them to say `thank you' to their moms or to be polite to each other. I just enjoy interacting with the kids and all the patrons. Whether your customer is 76 or 6, it doesn't matter. It's important to get to know them."

"Adam is one of my best guards," said Darby van Conover, assistant aquatics director for the Columbia Association. "He has always exceeded my expectations and he's the hardest worker I've ever known."

Adam has help from his staff -- lifeguards Kate Conti, Zack Ward, Josh Shapero, Matt Singleton and Caitriona Hayes -- to ensure patrons are safe and made to feel welcome at the pool.

Although this is her first year as an assistant manager, Conti, 22, of Ellicott City has been a lifeguard for seven years.

She says the best part of her job is "when people go out of their way to get to know you."

Conti is a student at Towson University, majoring in Athletic Training and Exercise Science. The worst part of the job, she says, is the disciplinary action she has to take with children who are behaving in unsafe or inappropriate ways.

"The grossest part of lifeguarding is the janitorial services you have to provide," she adds. (Include the ability to clear a clogged toilet to the imaginary want ad at the beginning of this article.)

Association applicants must pass a physical test before they're permitted to take the course that is required to become a licensed lifeguard.

"We want to make sure that before they take the class, they have the basic skills," van Conover said.

Applicants must demonstrate the ability to swim 200 yards in less than three minutes and 45 seconds.

In another test, they must retrieve a 10-pound black rubber diving brick from the bottom of the deep well of the pool and tread water for one minute while holding it. Then they must drop the brick and tread water for another minute with their hands above the water.

Finally, applicants must swim 25 yards in less than 20 seconds -- jumping into the water feet first.

"We train all of our lifeguards in the National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Training Program," van Conover says. The training program was developed by Ellis and Associates, a Texas-based national company that also trains lifeguards for Walt Disney World and Six Flags.

The program includes 36 hours of classes over a seven-week period. After completing the training program successfully, lifeguards are licensed by Ellis and Associates.

"Ellis and Associates provide independent auditors who actually come around and perform covert video surveillance on lifeguards," van Conover said. "This is done to maintain the 10-20 Protection Rule."

The rule requires lifeguards to spot a swimmer in distress within 10 seconds and be able to reach the victim within 20 seconds.

"They're looking for certain things," van Conover explains. "They can tell when a guard is really watching and scanning the pool and who's not."

Association lifeguards make $6 an hour in their first year, with the highest paid pool managers earning $10.65.

Applicants must be at least 15 years old and are recertified each year.

Van Conover says he emphasizes the trust invested in lifeguards when speaking to new recruits.

"What other job in the world places as much responsibility for someone else's life on a 15-year-old?" he asks.

Swimming with memories

The Pheasant Ridge and Pointers Run swim teams -- both of River Hill -- held a Swim-a-thon from 8 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday at the River Hill pool in honor of the memory of former teammate Katie Hurley.

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