Belvoir's lifeguards ready to respond to emergencies
June 7, 2013
With Memorial Day weekend behind us, summertime has arrived. Thoughts have turned to a long break from school, Family vacations and outdoor recreation -- including perhaps the most popular leisure activity of all … swimming.
Last weekend pools across the country opened their gates to welcome thousands of patrons eager to start celebrating summer break and the return of sunshine and warm weather.
With all the freedoms and recreational opportunities summer provides, it's easy to lose sight of maintaining a commitment to safety, especially when we engage in water activities. Fortunately, the presence of lifeguards at our local pools helps minimize the inherent dangers. Most of us seldom consider the amount of training and preparation these professionals undergo to provide the protection we too often take for granted.
According to Tina Robinson, Fort Belvoir's Aquatics Program director, lifeguards at the installation's pools undergo intense Red Cross certification training to enable them to handle any emergency that could arise from a wide variety of situations. The course is difficult to pass, requiring a serious and dedicated approach from the students.
"The class takes a lot of maturity and that can be a tall order for 15-year-olds," she said during a 2012 training session at Belvoir's Benyuard Indoor Pool. "This certification training is just the tip of the iceberg. If they do not continue their training and keep up their skills, this course will all be for naught. We really stress the fact that wherever they get employment, they have to maintain those skills; they have to know how to work as a team and they have to have good communication. They also have to know their facility. If they don't continually train together as a team, they won't be able to do a rescue."
Robinson added that once a student earns certification, he or she must periodically recertify to ensure that skills remain up to date.
"The lifeguard training course and the CPR course must be recertified every two years," she said. "The American Red Cross now makes available reviews to all of our Red Cross certified lifeguards. They can go online and review certain skills and procedures."
Students taking the course quickly find that the training is critically important and will result in their having to carry an enormous responsibility as first-responders in medical emergencies.
"It is a lot of hard work," Robinson said. "It's fun the first couple of days but then there's the wake-up call. The majority of these kids are formerly 'pool rats' and after the first two days, we ask them, 'So, what do you think now that you're starting to get the training and learning what it's like to be a lifeguard and you look back to when you were a 'pool rat?'' They all say, 'We were terrible; we will never again play like we're in trouble or go down to the bottom.' So there are a lot of life lessons involved with this. It's a great opportunity for the students and it's not for everybody. It takes that maturity and we look for the ones who are willing to work on their skills."
"There's definitely a lot of responsibility in being a lifeguard," added Tara Van Zummereren, lead lifeguard at Benyuard Pool. "Our lifeguards are 15 or 16 years old, and the biggest thing to learn is that this is not the easy summer job where you can just be outside and get a tan."
Van Zummereren also said the job requires a total commitment in terms of making the safety of the pool's patrons the top priority.
"You have to stay focused all the time," she said. "You have a lot of kids in the water, and even though their parents are there, they are not always paying attention. So you have to watch what's going on in the pool very closely all the time. And it's not for everybody -- the responsibilities include full Red Cross first aid certification (including the use of a defibrillator and performing CPR) -- and it carries a lot of responsibility."
The certification process, which concludes with an intense, hands-on final exam, requires life guard candidates to put the life-saving skills they've learned throughout the course to the ultimate test as every technique and simulated rescue operation they perform counts.
For Belvoir's lifeguards the training equips them to properly respond to any emergency while remaining focused and working together. In order to achieve
certification candidates must demonstrate their ability to perform first aid on a choking victim as well as CPR on an unresponsive person. They are required to work as teams to rescue a simulated distressed swimmer, retrieving mock victims from various sections and depths of the pool, securing the swimmer to a backboard and then moving the swimmer out of the water to perform the necessary resuscitation procedures. Students also must demonstrate their skills in clearing the pool of other swimmers to better facilitate a water rescue, calling for others to call 911, as well as simply controlling the levels of horseplay that often brings an emergency out of normal pool conditions.
Newly certified lifeguards also receive assistance and mentoring from more experienced personnel as they continue to refine their skills.
"We back up our new incoming lifeguards with a group of older guards for the summer," Robinson said. "That also gives our older guards the opportunity to reinforce what they know. I've got a fantastic team here; they work together, play together and they're very serious about what they do."
For more information regarding Fort Belvoir's lifeguard training courses and aquatics programs call Tina Robinson at (703) 805-2620.