When it comes to lifeguarding, Jim Wheeler is for the “big brother” approach. “You need the lifeguard in a chair [watching the water] with a senior or lead guard on the pool deck watching the lifeguard and a manager actively watching them, and a supervisor who visits facilities,” says the 46-year-old aquatics director for the city of Oakland, Calif. and nearly 30-year industry veteran.
Wheeler gives workshops on active supervision, layering protection, auditing,in-service training and performance-based lifeguard development. He says he’s known for “hands-on” useful information that can be applied immediately to the job.
At his own facility, he encourages managers to stay out of the office unless absolutely necessary, and to be actively on duty on the deck.
Wheeler took the concept from his experience guarding beaches, where water conditions and uncontrolled environments demand superior lifeguard vigilance.
He thinks the industry is tackling the drowning problem at public facilities by asking the right questions, and expects to see vast improvements. He fully supports use of surveillance technology or a private lifeguarding company to supplement current guarding, but says they aren’t needed if they’re not affordable. “People do a better job when they’re being watched,” he says. “You can’t get away from that.”