Summer Hotspot Keeps Vigilant on Safety Issues, Pool Policy

“Where have all the lifeguards gone?” Diana Martinez, Battle Drive Pool supervisor, asked not too long ago.

She was at the Petersburg YMCA, hoping to recruit a few lifeguards to help fill a shortage at Fort Lee. Apparently, the Y was in a similar dilemma.

Lifeguards, in general, have a short shelf life – part-time work through high school, maybe a little college – before the allure (or necessity) of full-time employment beckons them away from the pool. Martinez isn’t sure exactly what the problem is this year, but she’s making strides to keep the pool fully-staffed.

With the pool already a month into the summer season, Martinez has relied steadily on a few returning lifeguards, some who are college students working at the pool for summer work experience. Kristin Edwards, fitness trainer at Clark Fitness Center, also helps out when needed.

The lifeguards are certified in CPR, first aid and lifeguarding through an accredited American Red Cross program at the pool, through the Hopewell Community Center or the Petersburg YMCA.

The training lifeguards are required to complete involves assessing a variety of situations that can occur at a public pool. Knowing and enforcing pool policies are of the utmost importance. Proper and timely decision-making abilities are also honed in training, said Martinez.

Diandra Tavarez, 16, and Gage Walker, 14, are both Prince George High School students and have just completed the lifeguard training. Diandra, or Didi, as she is called by her friends, is excited to join them in the lifeguard ranks. Diandra said she’s up to the challenge and ready for her first day on the job.

“I’ve had people tell me that they’ve had to save someone on their first day, so I’m hoping it won’t be that eventful,” she said. “But I’ll be fine.”

Gage won’t be joining her right away. At 14, he’s a couple of months short of the age requirement to lifeguard, but is already certified in CPR and first aid. When he turns 15 in August, he’ll take the lifeguard test and help fill the void until the pool closes Sept. 3.

“It’ll be worth the wait,” said Gage, who once had a near-drowning experience when he was younger. “In the back of my mind, that made me want to be a lifeguard. But the other reason is to make my friends jealous with a nice-paying job that’s a lot of fun.”

Gage is familiar with the territory he’ll cover later this summer. He keeps busy assisting Martinez with water readings, issuing equipment and observing how the lifeguard staff conducts drownproofing testing with Soldiers. He is continuing the GuardStart program which will prepare him for the completion of the lifeguard testing after his birthday.

Diandra completed the testing June 26, but knows that the training doesn’t end with the final exam.

“It takes a lot of work and a lot of willpower to keep going,” said Diandra. “As far as swimming goes, the only way to get better is to keep swimming.”

Martinez makes sure all the lifeguards maintain their skills. They swim laps every day and conduct refresher training twice weekly.

“Lifeguarding takes a lot of strength and we want to make sure that they all stay in good shape,” said Martinez. “They’re young, so it’s important to keep training throughout the season to maintain discipline.”

Part of the discipline of lifeguarding is strict enforcement of policy. Martinez said it can be hard, especially when faced with rejecting entrance of under-age children.

“That can be the hardest thing to do, and is our biggest problem,” said Martinez. “Kids under the age of 12 cannot be permitted in the pool without an adult (18 years or older). Every day we have to turn away kids. We check everyone’s ID before they enter. I feel real bad for these kids and their parents who didn’t understand the rule.”

Martinez said that positions are still available this season. Applications can be found online through www.leemwr.com or call (804) 734-6198 for more information.