Call him Sir Chris Brewster. The professional lifeguard advocate was recently made Knight in the Order of Lifesaving for his years of dedicated service to boost, refine and continuously upgrade the profession.
He is, after all, a man of service, since he first started as a seasonal waterfront lifeguard in 1979. “[Even] if I were to continue working at this the rest of my life, I feel I would never be able to repay the debt I owe to lifesaving,” he says.
But he’s working on it. Fifty-one-year-old Brewster is president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association and of the Americas region for the International Life Saving Federation. His goal is to promote the professional image of lifeguards by improving pay and benefits. He’s also working to build standards that prevent drowning more effectively. And he does it all for free.
The retired lifeguard chief for the city of San Diego uses his experience and resources to leverage worldwide action to prevent drowning. With the ILSF, he’s developing an annual world drowning report that would provide statistics and note-related trends. He’s also creating international standards to develop public education and standardized beach safety flags.
Brewster hopes to create comprehensive aquatic safety standards that would ensure lifesaving organizations and governments are addressing all the critical areas. He just returned from a meeting with the World Health Organization in Geneva, discussing a world conference on drowning prevention, called World Water Safety 2007, to be held in September in Porto, Portugal.
Back home, Brewster is building efforts to educate the public about drowning prevention, through public safety announcements and other means. He’s also creating alliances with the USLA, YMCA and American Red Cross to develop standards. “We’re all convinced that the standards we’ve put out over the years, by and large, have been based on historical experience and not scientific research,” he says. “We all believe that by using existing science and also identifying areas where further scientific research is, we can do a much better job ensuring the training and standards in all environments are of the best quality.”
Overall, he’s trying to strengthen his organizations with better funding sources. Currently, he says both are underfunded “for the important mission that they have.”
“My goal, particularly with respect to USLA, is to leave the organization in a fiscally sound condition with appropriate administrative staff so it doesn’t have to fully rely on volunteers,” he says. Because without Chris Brewster’s volunteered time and efforts, lifeguarding wouldn’t be anywhere close to what it is today.