One might think that being a lifeguard is just another summer job in Evanston, but in reality, it is a job that requires hours of training, book work, and intense mental focus.
“There’s nothing that we can’t teach to someone,” says Recreation Program Manager and Lakefront Operations Manager Adam Abajian. “Everyone who applies here is a capable human being. As long as they want to learn, we will teach them the right stuff.”
All those who apply to work at Evanston beaches must already be certified to be lifeguards by the Red Cross. This narrows the competition right off the bat. In the end, after completing a swim test, 25 to 30 lifeguards are typically accepted into the City’s Lifeguard Academy every year.
The swim test has three parts. The first part is a 200-yard swim where the potential guards have to carry a 10-pound brick for the final 50 yards. Candidates must complete the swim in less than 3 minutes 45 seconds. The next test is a 25-yard sprint that requires them to pick up the brick from the bottom in less than 21 seconds. The final test is a 25-yard underwater swim, which also has a 21-second maximum. Swimming skills are vital in lifeguarding, so these times must be met.
“While you may be able to work a pool and not be a very strong swimmer, you may not be able to pull that off in an open water environment,” says Mr. Abajian.
Once potential guards pass the swim test, they begin Lifeguard Academy. This year, Lifeguard Academy, also known as Rookie School, took place the week after high school ended. The Academy lasts one week, and each day is 7.5 hours long. About half the time is filled with book work, which involves learning about currents, sun protection, weather, waves, and other health and safety information necessary for guarding open water. The lifeguards are provided with a 100-page manual of vital information.
The other half of the time in the Academy is spent on physical and strength training. This is where the guards do push-ups, running, and core training. But this training has a lifeguard spin. For example, the guards run with tubes and other gear they might use.
“It looks a lot like a Cross Fit class,” says Mr. Abajian.
Another component of the physical training is learning how to enter and exit the water in different situations. The lifeguards practice various emergency action plans where all beach employees, including the ticket-takers, have to know where they are and what they do in every situation. After a week of Academy, the guards are ready to man the five Evanston beaches. However, the guidance and training do not end there.
One of the major tasks of a Lifeguard Supervisor is checking in and observing the guards every day. In-service training continues, so that the guards maintain their skills. Occasionally, there will be mock drownings – typically, fake drownings of boaters or other guards – to keep the lifeguards sharp. The supervisors will see which lifeguards acted properly. Lifeguards have been fired for not performing well during these mock drownings.
The skills that lifeguards learn in training can be useful elsewhere. Mr. Abajian says that some of the most important skills from lifeguarding are “vision” and “situational awareness.” The mindset needed to be a good lifeguard can be applied in the future. Lifeguards are the ones who react to any emergencies they encounter, Mr. Abajian says.
“It’s really easy to walk past an emergency. In a public place when no one else is acting, lifeguards run at that,” says Mr. Abajian. “If it’s nothing else, I would love for them to be the person in an emergency who takes charge.”
These are the life skills Mr. Abajian wants to instill in his lifeguards. He trains them to do their job: enforce the rules and protect lives. Mr. Abajian believes they deserve credit for all that they do.
“In some ways, it is a very boring job. You’re watching people have fun,” says Mr. Abajian. “In some ways, it is a very thankless job. Be nicer to them. They went through a lot to get trained, and they have your best interests at heart.”
Lifeguards continue to work hard to keep the beaches safe, and that can be credited to all the training they undergo. Whether it is book work or pushups, lifeguards’ thorough training makes Evanston beach experiences safe and enjoyable.