The pool at my high school opened in the fall of 1985, my senior year. My first experience with using the pool was after I had knee surgery for a sports injury. As part of my rehab, the pool instructor stuck me in a lifesaving course. Me, a lifeguard? She had obviously never seen me swim. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I took her challenge and completed the certification. Little did I know that rehab in the pool was a piece of cake compared to lifeguard training!

We swam 1,000 yards, five days a week. This included carrying a partner across the pool using a cross-chest carry with a regular, then an inverted, sidestroke kick.

There were cool techniques; hair and armpit tow, escapes and releases, using your clothes as a flotation device, and using a rescue board. The releases were more like performing jujitsu underwater.

When I started officially lifeguarding at a pool in Colorado Springs, we had backboards that resembled old door frames with shredded towels as restraints, and a first-aid kit that looked like it was out of World War II. No gloves, no pocket mask. Other than the archaic equipment, we had our lifeguard uniform, an air horn and our elevated lifeguard stand. The height of that thing was nerve wracking! Our emergency action plan was a blast of the air horn and then a dive into the pool to your victim. Simple, right?

Then in the ’90s, the transition into a professional lifeguarding era began. Lifeguards began training to use special equipment and way less brawn. Items such as pocket masks, automated external defibrillators, oxygen, spinal injury management, polyurethane back boards with commercial straps, medical terminology, pool operation classes, technology and of course, gloves, became the standard.

So, as I reflect back, there is one constant. Even after 25 years, the lifeguard’s most important tools are still his eyes and ears. The ability to recognize when an emergency exists and respond is paramount to the outcome of any situation in or around the pool. The tools of the trade are just that, tools. We still need attentive lifeguards to sit on the stand and protect the individuals by providing active surveillance.

Stay vigilant and model the behaviors that will keep your swimmers safe.

— Clayton D. Shuck, LGIT, EMT-B, MPA, Deputy Manager of Recreation, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, Littleton, Colo.