By KEITH SMITH
What is an unsung hero? It is a person who makes a substantive yet unrecognized contribution; it is a person whose bravery is unknown or unacknowledged.
Louisville Metro Parks runs four outdoor and one indoor, year round, swimming pool. Each summer for 9 to 10 weeks, the lifeguards at these pools see 60,000 to 70,000 patrons. The average age of a lifeguard is between 16 and 18. Whenever a lifeguard gets into the chair, he or she has a great responsibility to ensure the safety of each person in that pool. Over the last five years, we’ve seen over 300,000 patrons at Louisville Metro Parks pools. In those five years, we’ve had only one near drowning.
I am an aquatic professional with 18 years experience training lifeguards and take great pride in the success and responsibility of our staff. I have trained YMCA lifeguards and American Red Cross lifeguards. Training is challenging, the student learns the importance of maintaining lifeguarding knowledge and skills. The American Red Cross lifeguard program is 30 to 39 hours and teaches:
- Surveillance skills to help you recognize and prevent injuries
- Rescue skills – in the water and on land
- First aid training and professional rescuer CPR – to help prepare you for any emergency
- Professional lifeguard responsibilities – like interacting with the public and addressing uncooperative patrons
To become a lifeguard you must first pass the prerequisite skills test which includes a 300 yard swim (100 freestyle, 100 breaststrokes, and 100 choice of freestyle or breaststroke) and you must swim 20 yards and surface dive 10 feet retrieving a 10-pound brick. Once the swimmer has retrieved the brick, he/she must swim 20 yards on their back while holding the brick to the original starting point. The swimmer must exit the water without using a ladder or steps.
This prerequisite must be completed in 1 min and 40 seconds. Once the students complete the lifeguard class, they must obtain a lifeguard permit from the Louisville Metro Board of Health to work in Louisville Metro which consists of passing a Board of Health guard course (water skills) and a written test.
The young lifeguard has a lot of responsibilities. Each time he/she goes into the chair a swimmer’s life is in their hands. At any given second, the lifeguard could be face with the reality that he/she might have to save a life.
I know because on April 1, 2011, one of my lifeguards blew his whistle jumped into the pool and brought out a non-breathing child. I started rescue breathing and CPR and thankfully revived the child on the pool deck. This was our second near drowning in the last five years.
But, because the lifeguard did what he was taught and I reacted the way lifeguards are trained to, we were able to prevent a tragedy. There were no cameras or media coverage that accompany a tragedy. Not a single mention in any news reports that day. That’s why I started this article: lifeguards are the unsung heroes!
Keith Smith supervises Metro Parks lifeguards and is based out of the Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center.