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The City Journals

Utah lifeguards receive award for saving lives

Jul 26, 2021 02:30PM ● By Karmel Harper

By Karmel Harper | [email protected]

Because of them, an estimated 100,000 lives are saved annually in the United States. The figure is close to 1 million lives saved worldwide. With their signature red swimsuits, whistles and lifesaving buoys, lifeguards are an invaluable presence in public pools and waterparks this time of year. 

While lifeguards work all year in pools that operate year-round, in Utah, where most outdoor pools and waterparks open around Memorial Day weekend, the hiring process for the summer months begins much earlier. At JL Sorenson Recreation Center in Herriman, hiring begins in February. “We hire 120 lifeguards every summer; they range in age from 15 to 22,” Aquatics Coordinator Brittany Taylor said.

The early onboarding is necessary for new hires to complete the rigorous certification and training process to save lives. The American Red Cross lifeguard certification is more than 25 hours long and includes both testing of hands-on skills as well as comprehension on written tests. The certification also includes CPR, AED and First Aid. At JL Sorenson, the in-person course is broken up over five intensive days, but its trainees also complete coursework online. Yet even prior to beginning the training process, potential new hires must first qualify by passing a swimming skills test which typically consists of demonstrating the ability to swim 100 yards, tread water for two minutes and retrieve a brick from the bottom of a deep pool (typically around 13 feet deep). In addition to this initial training, lifeguards continue to maintain their skills with regular in-service trainings and meetings. 

A lifeguard’s primary responsibility is to prevent drownings and other injuries at aquatic facilities. They do this by monitoring activities in and near the water through patron surveillance. They also prevent injuries by minimizing or eliminating hazardous situations or behaviors, respond immediately and effectively to all emergencies, and administering first aid and CPR, including using an automated external defibrillator (AED). 

Lifeguards also have secondary responsibilities and tasks, but these may never interfere with patron surveillance or emergency response. These secondary tasks include testing the pool water chemistry, assisting patrons by performing safety orientations, cleaning or performing maintenance, completing records and reports, performing opening and closing duties, or facility safety checks and inspections. 

If you have ever visited a public pool or aquatic park, you may have noticed that lifeguards rotate their post regularly every 15–20 minutes. This rotation is necessary, as it offers a change of scenery for the lifeguard to maintain vigilance and provide fresh eyes to the new location. In public pools, this change of location can involve moving to a different chair and in large aquatic parks like Cherry Hill in Kaysville, lifeguards move to various attractions such as assisting with the slide at Cardiac Canyon Run or surveillance at the pirate ship at Pirates Cove.

In September 2020, South Davis Recreation Center lifeguards were honored with Red Cross Lifesaving Awards for their efforts in sustaining lives in three life-threatening instances. These heroes worked in teams and put their knowledge into action. The awards ceremony was held at the South Davis Recreation Center board meeting where several mayors were present to offer their congratulations. Kathleen Steadman, aquatic operations manager for the South Davis Recreation Center, said: “These young people are amazing. Each of them (along with many of their co-workers who assisted with these emergencies) saw a need and took care of it—no hesitation; they knew what to do and did it. I’m so proud of their bravery during a life-threatening situation.”

Lifeguards’ responsibilities are significant, necessary and can be daunting in an aquatic center. Lizie Allen, aquatic program manager at South Davis Recreation Center, offered tips for parents to make the lifeguards’ jobs easier. 

“Put your phone down, engage with your children in the water and please stay within arms’ reach of your children around the water,” she said.