In many ways, John L. Hunsucker wrote the New Testament on lifeguarding back in the early 1970s when he developed a new specialized category for the American Red Cross.

Lifeguard. The very concept seems so simple and obvious now. Before then, the closest thing to a lifeguard was someone ARC-certified in lifesaving and water safety. Hunsucker changed all that.

“In lifeguarding, you are specifically responsible for other people’s lives on a daily basis,” says Hunsucker, president of the National Aquatic Safety Co. in Dickinson, Texas.

As the industry matured, Hunsucker realized lifeguards needed a certifying organization to meet the training and safety needs of the new market. With that in mind, he founded NASCO in 1974, with the mission to reduce drowning. For more than 30 years, the company has provided lifeguard certification, risk management, and other services.

Armed with a Ph.D. in mathematics and a P.E. in industrial engineering, Hunsucker applied tools from his higher learning to the aquatics fields in innovative ways.

For example, he developed new scanning procedures based on research and scientific theory. Because of Hunsucker’s background, many consider NASCO’s lifeguarding systems to be some of the most technically sound protocols in the industry. After all, they were developed by the same guy who also worked on NASA’s risk management system during the 1980s.

With a small staff of six, the company still works with as many as 80 waterparks and 50 community pool facilities per season. Hunsucker counts most of the major waterparks among his clientele.

To date, he’s managed to log more than 25,000 volunteer hours with various aquatics groups, including ARC, the Boy Scouts of America and the YMCA. He’s worked on numerous industry boards and chaired the lifeguarding committee for Council for National Cooperation of Aquatics. That leadership has earned him just about every lifeguarding and safety award at some point and induction into the World Waterpark Association’s Hall of Fame.

Today, his focus is spreading the word about NASCO’s mission in an industry that’s growing and ever-changing. “Educating people about what’s required in lifeguarding and making sure they understand there are costs associated with it is a real challenge,” he says. “But we need to meet that challenge.”— Joshua Keim