Peter Ludwig, at Ridge Park Pool in Chicago's Beverly community. | Supplied photo
Updated: August 15, 2013 6:12AM
It’s the time of the year when lifeguards watch my family and others through mirrored sunglasses.
Whether they are perched high on a chair at the beach or walking poolside, I’ve grown accustomed to their ever-present glare.
And yet I often look back and wonder what they’re thinking. What do these lifeguards know that I do not?
Last week, I posed this question to Bernard Fisher, president and director of health and safety for the American Lifeguard Association.
The ALA certifies 10,000 lifeguards annually. The Virginia-based group is a distant second behind the American Red Cross, which trains and approves some 200,000 lifeguards each year.
Fisher said one of the biggest misconceptions is the Hollywood-style drowning, where swimmers kick, scream and splash before going under. In fact, drowning is typically silent. The struggle is all under water, and lifeguards have a 5- to 10-minute window to rescue the panicked swimmer.
The best drowning-prevention practice for parents is keeping a close eye on their children. Unfortunately, many adults relinquish oversight when a lifeguard is on duty. However, each lifeguard typically watches upward of 50 swimmers. So parents ought to remain watchful at all times, Fisher said.
Parents also need to take an active role in checking the quality of the water. As governments slash budgets, funds dedicated to pool inspection are often targeted. Bathers should ask when the last time the pool was inspected was and if it passed. The lifeguards are only there to prevent drowning. They don’t control the cleanliness of the water, Fisher said.
As for poolside, I know the Ludwig boys have been told on more than one occasion to WALK! rather than run. This is a textbook lifeguard warning. Instructing a child to walk is actually considered a positive reinforcement, whereas telling someone not to run is considered negative. And those skinned knees suffered from running around the pool are a greater threat than you might think.
“Now the lifeguards are paying attention to a skinned knee when there may be a situation going on in the pool,” Fisher said.
As hard as it may be for children not to run poolside, it’s equally difficult for some lifeguards to keep from texting. Most lifeguards are between the ages of 16 to 22 years old — the prime demographic for communicating via text message. The ALA has a zero-tolerance policy for lifeguards caught texting, as anyone fiddling with his or her phone clearly isn’t watching the water.
A few other tidbits from inside the mind of a lifeguard:
Wear sunscreen. Lifeguards can protect you from the water, not the sun.
The average commercial hot tub has 2 gallons of urine in it.
There’s no such thing as the blue dye to detect urine in pools. One story says a trial run of such a product once caught a mother peeing in a public pool. She was forced to sell her house from the stigma. She later filed a lawsuit and won a large sum.
Two-piece bathing suits are better on the beach than one-piece suits when it comes to preventing the “sand diaper effect.”
Those plastic lids that go over the pool filter really need to be secured with screws. Otherwise, someone is going to fall in and get hurt.
It’s actually a bit of a relief to find out lifeguards have so much on their mind. Here I thought the only thing they were looking at through those mirrored sunglasses was my jelly belly.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business writer who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at email@example.com.