You couldn’t tell from the smile on her face, but a spinal “injury” rendered Juliana Friguletto immobile in the town pool Sunday afternoon.
Thankfully, the recent graduate of Mohanasen High School was only playing the role — while helping to fill a national shortage of certified lifeguards, to boot.
The 18-year-old Rotterdam resident was one of about 16 teenagers to receive an American Red Cross lifeguarding certification.
During the spinal exercise, the final stanza of the week-long training that consisted of hands-on and virtual learning, Julie Rouse and William Alcorn tended to Friguletto before medics could arrive.
Rouse, an American Red Cross lifeguard instructor, told the group to enter the water calmly and gently, and to get the victim out slowly and gently.
Rouse stabilized Friguletto’s head while keeping her body afloat so that her legs weren’t hanging.
“I may need to walk her,” Rouse said, until Alcorn, a 16-year-old trainee from Niskayuna, came with a backboard, which he dipped under her.
“You have to really dip it,” Rouse told Alcorn.
A short time later, Rouse huddled with the teens and told them they had all successfully completed the training and would be receiving their certificates via email.
She reminded them that they can do their part to ensure life-saving measures won’t be needed in their future jobs with a healthy dose of prevention, making sure pool-goers consistently follow rules.
The training, which was $350 for residents 15 and older, $375 for nonresidents, was the town’s local response to the national shortage.
Because of restrictions related to COVID-19, the American Red Cross limited or suspended most of its lifeguard certification courses this year, causing a severe shortage of certified pool staff.
On top of that, the number of lifeguards had already been declining in recent years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported there were approximately 31,000 fewer lifeguards, ski patrol and other recreational protective service workers in 2020 than there were in 2018.
“The town of Niskayuna needs more lifeguards to ensure our town pool can remain fully operational throughout the entire summer,” said Niskayuna Town Board member and longtime pool volunteer Denise Murphy McGraw.
“Therefore, we are taking the extra step of offering a Red Cross lifeguard certification class direct through our Community Programs department.”
Fifteen-year-old Anna Bennett of Niskayuna was keenly aware of the need for her newest skill set.
Bennett said she wants to become a lifeguard mostly for the money, and she figured she would “kind of have the edge” in a job search because she used to swim competitively.
“There are jobs going around everywhere,” said Bennett said, who hopes to land a job at either her hometown, Schenectady or Colonie.
According to a review of third-party job listings online, approximately two dozen lifeguarding posts need to be filled at local organizations as of mid-July.
Rouse said Niskayuna, the Red Cross, and swim programs throughout the area “all need to work together to make sure that we get people certified to work at all of our swimming pools in the county, or outside of the county.”
In addition to the spine stabilization exercise, the training worked on chair rotations that made sure the teens constantly kept their eyes on the pool, active front and back rescues, and drills for responding to a submerged victim in shallow and deep water.
They also went over rules of the pool from A to Z, including making sure the facility is locked and secure for overnight.
“They did great,” Rouse said. “Everybody did really good, and they were willing to continue trying their skills that when they didn’t have it correct, the first time, or even the fifth time, they were eager to want to be able to learn and become lifeguards in the community.”
Rouse said she knew of swim programs that normally employ up to 50 lifeguards, but are now down in the 30s in terms of staffing.
“People are really struggling to keep their facilities open because there’s just not proper certified staff to maintain the pools,” she said.
The pandemic factors largely in the shortage.
“We went a summer without pools being open, and we went a summer without people being able to be trained and so people’s certificates lapsed, and they weren’t able to keep up with their certificates,” she said.
Friguletto said she’s applied to work as a lifeguard at Central Park in Schenectady. She said she has friends who already work there and they’ve told her it’s a fun summer job.
Friguletto said there’s another reason she wanted the training. It will be helpful, she said, in case something were to happen to her 5-year-old niece when she takes her swimming.
She said she enjoyed the training because it was hands-on. She said Rouse was a good teacher who was patient when she struggled with the deep-end passive save exercise.
“It was fun,” Bennett said of the training. “It was long, but I learned a lot with all the saves, and how to work with people. It was a good experience and I enjoyed being in the water.”