Becoming a lifeguard isn’t usually the first thing people think about doing during the winter holidays in the Northeast.
After all, most outdoor pools are drained and the edges of many area lakes are starting to form ice. But for some, the time between Christmas and New Year’s is perfect for seeking the certification that will allow them to land a job next summer or improve their qualifications at their existing employment.
At the Fulton County YMCA this week, six prospective lifeguards between the ages of 16 and 41 started their coursework to become certified. By the end of the 36-hour training session, they’re hoping to have the skills to both find a job and save lives.
“Might as well give it a head start,” said 19-year-old Hillary Habla, a Tribes Hill resident on break from college taking the American Red Cross Waterfront Lifeguard Course.
Aside from the physical requirements of the course, as well as a series of multiple choice exams, students must demonstrate to the
certified course instructor that they are capable of implementing the training during a rescue.
“They have to prove to us they can do it and do it properly,” said Barb Palmateer, the YMCA’s aquatics director and the instructor for the course. “They’ve got to prove they can perform these skills.”
Necessary skills include cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid and basic water rescues. The course will enable those who pass to work at pools, beaches and lakes, including ones operated by the state.
Some training seems basic on the outset, such as the proper way to enter the water during a rescue. But all the teaching is rooted in a purpose, Palmateer said.
For instance, the stride jump looks like a simple leap into water with a flotation device wedged beneath both arms. But a scissor kick executed at the point of entry prevents the lifeguard’s head from dipping beneath the water, thereby allowing him or her to never lose sight of a swimmer in need of assistance.
“It’s definitely a rewarding course,” Palmateer said. “You’re essentially teaching someone how to save lives.”
For Parris Beach, 41, the training will allow her to take a summer job in her hometown of Wells. She was a lifeguard 13 years ago, but her certification expired.
“This was about the only time I could do it,” said the mother, who also works as an emergency medical technician.
Elizabeth Mahon signed up for the course hoping that it will help her land a job coaching swimming. The 34-year-old Johnstown resident already works as a physical therapist and didn’t have time to do the training until the holiday break.
“This is a perfect fit for my schedule,” she said.