B Chris Brewster (the “B” stands for Bartlett, an old family name, and “Chris” is short for Christmas, his mother’s maiden name), arguably the most powerful lifeguard on the planet, actually started his career on the ski slopes. One winter he even divided his time between the mountains of Colorado and the beaches of California while earning a full-time lifeguarding job with the city of San Diego.
“It was wild,” recalls Brewster. “One day I’d be shoveling sand off a boardwalk and the next day I’d be shoveling snow.”
After that, Brewster became a full-time lifeguard, a job he stuck with for 22 years. Today, he’s president of the United States Lifesaving Association and president of the International Life Saving Federation — just two of the more prominent of his many titles and responsibilities.
Impressive as his titles are, it’s the work that he does — and the influence he holds — that really deserves recognition. For instance, he is one of two people in the world who are helping the World Health Organization determine what percentage of drownings are preventable — and what can be done to prevent them.
He’s also appeared on major television shows and networks including “20/20,” “Good Morning America,” and CNN. He’s been quoted in leading national newspapers such as The New York Times. But no matter where he goes, his message is the same: with proper training and organization, beach drownings can be prevented.
“You can’t unring the bell when a drowning has occurred, but you can stop future deaths and injury through a variety of means that are well-known,” he says. “By pooling resources of experts, you can develop new and improved methods of drowning prevention.”
Part preacher, part academic, part strategist, he’s traveled all over the world spreading the word about preventable drowning, sometimes at his own expense. In his various leadership roles he figures he works about 50 hours a week — as a 100 percent volunteer. But the way Brewster sees it, he’ll never be able to repay what the lifeguarding profession has given him.
“I see lifeguarding as this extraordinary gift that I was given,” says the 49-year-old. “If I work as hard as I can for the rest of my life, I won’t have given back as much as I received. And I mean that quite sincerely.”
Even so, he’s giving it a good shot. In addition to his two main titles, he’s also the chair of the National Certification Committee for USLA; chair of the Lifesaving Commission for ILS; and editor of the USLA manual. For good measure, he’s also liaison to the United Nations.
But no matter what his title, Brewster is known for asking the tough questions, making things happen. In short, if there’s any new rule, standard or guideline in the world of beach lifeguarding, chances are very good that Bartlett Christmas Brewster had something to do with it.