Student lifeguards work to save swimmers in peril

Scott Reckers | Staff Writer

Junior Kylie Dennison (right) practices performing a save with junior Rilee Malloy. Although much of lifeguarding is sitting and watching the pool for hours, occasionally lifeguards do have to step in and save a person’s life.

Working as a lifeguard is more than just sitting in the stands and blowing whistles, it’s about saving lives.

While on most days, lifeguards spend their hours-long shifts sitting in the stand, on occasion they do get their feet wet. Junior Kylie Dennison has found herself in that very situation when she had to save a 9-year-old girl.

“I have made one save this summer at the outdoor pool,” Dennison said. “A little girl jumped off the diving board into the dive well and she was struggling to even call out for help to me. I blew my whistle three times, which is like an emergency signal, jumped in, and performed a front rescue. It was a rush; I felt amazing afterward.”

Junior Noah Forbes has been a lifeguard for a little over a year. Working his way to becoming a manager, Forbes has experience with performing saves. Although his first save was over a year ago, his most recent save brought back the memory.

“My first save was at the outdoor pool at the bottom of the slide,” Forbes said. “This kid came down the slide, but he was too short, and the water came rushing over his head and knocked him over. I had to pull him out. My second save was at the indoor pool, he was out in the middle of the water and he started to struggle to keep his head above water, so I had to jump in and swim over to him.”

Dennison said the rescue affected not only the girl she saved, but also Dennison herself. With a new purpose when on the stand, she said she is more observant than ever before.

“I think after my save, especially with outdoor guarding, I have changed the way I work,” Dennison said. “If I’m honest, I didn’t constantly scan the water before the save, but now I do. I realized it can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone. I really am a lot more vigilant now.”

Long-time lifeguards build a routine, like scanning the water when they are walking up the stand. Junior Ryan Griffith made a habit of this to stay attentive. This method notified Griffith of the possibility of danger in the pool moments before he made his first save.

“I could definitely tell when [the save] was going to happen,” Griffith said. “By the way the kid was swimming, I knew I would have to keep an eye on him. I didn’t know when I was going up into the stand that I was going to make a save, but I had an idea based on who was in my zone. When I first get to the chair I look for weaker swimmers. It’s a good way to know what’s going on and helps me predict if anyone will need my help.”

A drowning incident can happen at any time, so lifeguards must stay focused on the pool so they do not miss a signal. Sometimes, though, these signals can be misinterpreted. For Forbes, it is difficult to tell whether someone is in trouble or if it is just a false alarm. 

“There is always the possibility that you’re wrong, and if you are wrong, you cause a scene and embarrass yourself a bit,” Forbes said. “But if you don’t go in, and you were right, they really are drowning, they could die.”

For Dennison, the job can be repetitive at times, and it can be easy for her to get lost in her thoughts. But after her unexpected save, she said she realized a single glance could save someone’s life.

“There is a saying among lifeguards: ‘I didn’t think it would happen to me,’” Dennison said. “They’re talking about making a save because they could never see themselves actually saving a life. Before I made my save I was really just going through the motions: going to work, not necessarily doing a bad job, but not really trying very hard. But you have to remember that someone’s life is one the line.”

Photo by Scott Reckers.