Pete DeQuincy
Pete DeQuincy

May is National Water Safety Month. For the public, it could mean free or discounted swim lessons at the local pool, life jacket giveaways, or classroom water safety programs offered by drowning prevention advocacy groups.

Those are all good and necessary. But within the aquatics industry, there are public servants who advocate water safety and drowning prevention all year round: Lifeguards. Let’s talk about lifeguards and the real job that lifeguards do that the public should know about.

Lifeguards are more than many realize. From a public perspective: Lifeguards are the de facto subject matter experts on water safety and drowning prevention. They are constantly impressing on the public the importance of being within an arm’s length when actively supervising your child in the water, or moving into chest-deep water when not actively swimming or walking on the pool deck.

But the public probably is not aware that a lifeguard on tower duties or a designated walking patrol is searching their assigned water zone for any patron who is actively or passively drowning or behaviors/activities that are high risk that could compromise the safety of any patron every 30 seconds. That means that, within a 20-minute shift, a lifeguard has searched their assigned water zone at least 40 times.

Lifeguards regularly train to maintain their fitness and proficiency at being “rescue ready.” Rescue ready is being able to identify potential victims in water, respond by making the appropriate rescue, extricate the victim from the rescue point to the side of the pool deck or shoreline, extricate the victim to dry land, and provide the necessary care, which could include ventilations, CPR, use of an AED, and administration of emergency oxygen. And all this must be done in no more than 90 seconds.

Besides lifeguarding and being rescue ready, there are additional preventative duties lifeguards perform that are aligned with reducing the risk of drowning and increasing water safety awareness. Here is a list of duties:

· Teaching swimming lessons to the community· Lending out life jackets to patrons to support a safe experience in the water
· Presenting water safety talks to swim groups and classrooms
· Educating parents on the necessity of their supervision at the pool
· Performing swim tests on patrons wanting to utilize the deep end
· Applying wristbands that identify patrons who should or should not be in deep water
· Doing pool chemical checks to make sure the water is safe to use
· Verifying that the safety equipment at the aquatic facility is in good working order and ready to use daily
· Teaching CPR courses to the community
· Providing a water safe information table at health fairs and community events

Lifeguards do so much more than people realize. They are so often stereotyped in movies and television as individuals seeking summer fun -- easy going and superficial. That’s not the case. Lifeguards come for all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds but are all committed to one goal: public service. They are committed to their communities in making sure aquatic recreation is safe and accessible to everyone.

It’s easy to overlook them, but lifeguards are everywhere -- at the pool, the waterpark, the beach, the lake, and the rivers. With National Water Safety Month here, make sure you thank your counties, cities, and townships for providing lifeguards. Remind your commissions, city councils and school boards that lifeguards are just as important as police officers, firefighters and teachers.

Lastly, encourage the youth within your neighborhoods to become lifeguards and keep their communities safe from drowning.