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Area teens sound off on lifeguarding

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Forest Park pool lifeguards Jenae Huffman and Josh Miller both agree there are ups and downs to being a lifeguard.
Summer job. What to do? Where to do it? How many hours to work? What are the perks of the job? These are just some of the questions that go through a teenager's head when they search for that perfect summer position.

A job that comes to mind combines all the elements that teens look for, including easy hours, decent pay, outside in the sunshine, and if lucky, cute guys and gals to gaze at while working.

Lifeguard duty. Sounds like the dream job, or is it?

"There are some great perks," Jenae Huffman, 19, of Brazil, said. "You get to swim free and so does your family. You don't have to pay for tanning sessions. You get training in CPR and first aid. It's cool."

First aid and CPR training are great perks, the type that can make a teenager attractive to future employers.

Many employers require staff to have this training for safety reasons. Employers of many businesses need trained staff to meet OSHA safety standards.

"Having this training so early in my life helped me get my job a Regional Hospital," Huffman said. "I'm going into nursing and this gave me a great head start and a lot of practical experience."

Those that would feel trapped in an office, lifeguarding may be a good fit.

"It's great to be outside all day," Josh Miller, 18, of Brazil, said. "I can't stand air conditioning."

Being outside in the elements is fun, but what about the sun damage or the possibility of skin cancer? That is a very real risk for a lifeguard.

"It can be tough, but I always wear sunscreen and sometimes we have the umbrellas up so we aren't in the sun all day, " Miller said. "I think most of us who work at the pool have used sunscreen since we were kids. It's a smart thing to do."

Getting to know all the kids in the area is a perk, however, it can be difficult because these trained guards also see more than people think they do.

"We see signs of abuse, drug use, alcohol abuse and neglect," Huffman said. "You are trained to look, and to see. We notice when something is different about these kids and sometimes we have to report it."

Most parents would be thankful to know how closely their children are being looked after, but sometimes, the parents are the problem themselves.

"We aren't a baby-sitting service," Miller said. "I've seen parents drop off their kids and not pick them up until the end of the day. No food, no drinks, no money, and we are supposed to watch them. Unfortunately we can't. We have to watch the kids in the water. That's our job."

"Yeah," Huffman said, "We've had parents yell at us for telling their kids to get out of the water. Everyone needs a rest period. It's hard to enforce the rules when the parents don't respect rules or us, either."

The price a parent pays when they drop off the kids to swim is usually a couple of dollars, sometimes, it can turn into a lot more.

"When a child gets injured and the parent isn't there, we have no way to contact them, and it's at our discretion to call for an ambulance," Huffman said. "They may not be able to afford it, but when we have no other recourse, the needs of the child come first."

At the end of the day, some may wonder why anyone would want this job. It sounds like a lot more stress than what anyone was looking for, but don't underestimate these life guards. They enjoy what they do.

"It's not hard labor," Miller said. "But it is mentally hard. We all enjoy that swim when the day is done, and we've made great friends.

"We also learn about ourselves. You trust your judgment more when you can look at a kid and know that he's too scared to jump in, this one is a troublemaker, or this one is a daredevil. That's a skill that helps you in life, one that some people never develop."

"I agree," Huffman said. "You learn to read people in this business. It isn't a job for someone if they don't like kids or blood. You see a lot of both.

"The friends you make, the lessons you learn, the kids you save. That's what makes this job great."

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