To maintain consistent quality among lifeguards in Georgia's largest county isn't easy.

After all, Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation oversees 10 aquatic facilities, 18 bodies of water, eight waterparks and one interactive fountain. Doing this involves 350 part-time staff, — all managed and trained by only 18 full-timers.

But the Parks and Rec team seems to have found a training formula that helps insure the desired level of instruction, while allowing each facility enough autonomy to address their individual needs and cultures. And managers and trainers have done this in ways that make it fun for trainees.

Some structure

To achieve the needed level of consistency, the county has established fairly intensive requirements of its facilities, along with documentation.

Lifeguards have access to a selection of 30 to 35 annual lifeguard training courses, three to four lifeguard instructor courses, and three to four water-safety instructor courses, taught at four sites in Gwinnett County.

Each facility must conduct at least one in-service training per month during spring and winter, and two every month in summer. Additionally, they undergo skill audits, skill quizzes, rescue drills, and emergency action plan drills on a weekly basis.

Management backs this up with extensive documentation that gives guidance on the training programs falling outside the scope of the American Red Cross materials. A 173-page staff manual covers all policies and procedures, while a 205-page training manual details 46 skill audits, 23 aquatic quizzes, and contains other training documents.

But each facility gets to choose how they present the materials. This has led to creative exercises for building skills and teamwork. For instance, some facilities implement “the juggernaut,” a cardio-type challenge involving such tasks as running ¾ mile, then going up some stairs, then performing CPR.

“It's definitely difficult — sometimes they have to increase their stamina,” says Aquatics Coordinator Christine Greenfield. “But the staff feel really good about themselves when they’re successfully able to complete it.”

Some have created “escape rooms” on their facilities to help with team-building as trainees work together to find their way out. They have also employed gory Halloween, zombie and alien themes in creating obstacle courses, during which lifeguards must use their newfound knowledge to address one crisis after another while moving through the facility.

“Those are quite comical, and the staff really enjoys them,” Greenfield says. “You can see their wheels turning as they try to figure out how to make it work with the training they’ve had.”

The programs clearly have paid off: In six of the last seven years, Gwinnett County has placed first in the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association Lifeguard Games. “It’s really exciting to watch them apply their training,” Greenfield says.