The post yesterday got me thinking about all the actual work that was involved in lifeguarding. There’s the obvious guarding part of the job, but lifeguards to so much more than just that.

At the two pools I’ve worked, there was a guard rotation. This meant that if I’m in the stand right now and for the next half hour, when I come off of the stand, all of the other guards will rotate through my position before I go back up. This usually meant being in the stand for an hour and down for at least another hour, if not two. What does a guard do when not in the stand?

The most enviable task a lifeguard has is to man the front desk. No lives are requiring your attention, you just have to take money for little kids wanting ice cream, sign in pool members, and answer the phone. It’s fantastical. You can socialize with your fellow guards and pool members a little more easily in this position. It’s where all lifeguards aspire to be as frequently as possible.

However, if there are six guards on duty, two on the stand and two at the desk, that leaves two guards who must find some way to occupy themselves. While a few minutes can be piddled away doing things like getting water or cooling off in the pool, you can never be too sure who is watching and you’ve eventually got to get busy. Here are some of the unenviable tasks that must be completed while a guard rotates through this position:

  • picking up other people’s trash, including, but not limited to: candy wrappers, dropped, melted candy pieces, empty cans, empty plastic cups, empty soda bottles, etc.
  • hosing off the deck. sometimes those sticky pieces of candy require hosing to be fully cleaned up.
  • testing chemicals – someone has to make sure chlorine and pH levels are balanced.
  • mopping the clubhouse floors. ugh.
  • taking out full trash bags. usually this task can wait until the end of the day, but if things are particularly busy, the trash cans tend to fill up pretty quickly.
  • cleaning bathrooms. double ugh.
  • this may sound ridiculous, but I guess someone has to do it – picking trash off of the parking lot. this task is only applicable if everything else has been done, and done twice.
  • cleaning the tiles in the pool. they tend to get grimy with sunscreen and dead skin and hair and dirt, etc every other day or so. this is a pretty enviable task since you get to stay in the pool while you’re doing it.
  • emptying the overflow baskets. there can be some crazy stuff in these, so watch out. you can run into frogs, hair clumps, hair ties, beetles, and any other imaginable sort of wildlife and ickiness.
  • running errands for the manager. this isn’t something that normally comes up, but if you’re lucky, you can snag the job when it comes available.

I think that covers the main chores that have to be done while you rotate off of the desk and the stand. Somebody’s got to be responsible for keeping the pool clean and running, and I’ll tell you, I’ve never found a community pool that had a full time janitor. If you are a lifeguard, your secondary job title is janitor. That’s just the way it works. Sorry guys!

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I have recently discovered that there is no job in the world totally devoid of some sort of political scheming. Considering I’ve held almost every imaginable sort of job (except retail, per se), I consider myself an up and coming expert in the field of work related/office politics. I feel like I’ve seen and combated it all, though perhaps I only feel that way because of how deeply I abhor all forms of underhanded competition.

One might consider a swimming pool a place of calm and peace in a world of political nonsense, but you would be quite wrong. At the pool where I spent the majority of my lifeguarding career, there was an elected group of board members who met on a regular basis and in general basked in the glory of this absolutely meaningless power they felt they’d attained through this position. The self-importance displayed by these board members was, at times, absurd. The majority of pool members couldn’t care less who was the president of the board, so they’d vote for whomever displayed the most enthusiasm for the job. Let me tell you from experience: these are the types of people who ruin any enjoyment a lifeguard could have gleaned from their job. NOTHING is simple for a board president who delights in demonstrating the power they’ve attained.

They make it a point to have at least one lifeguard fired every summer, constantly nit-picking until they find their intended victim. They over-involve themselves with the day-to-day running of the pool, even though they’ve hired a perfectly capable manager to run things. They make sure they are seen at the pool at least three times a week, showing up at random times to make sure no one is slacking on the job, even when there is not one single swimmer. They NEVER swim. You will absolutely never see this person in a swimsuit, even though they are often present at the pool. They usually lack power in their families and/or at their jobs. They overcompensate for this lack of power by taking what should be a chill and relaxing environment and turning it into an absolute prison.

These sorts of folks make me appreciate even more the Pool Board Presidents who are so cool and relaxed that you hardly even remember their names. These types show up once a week, make sure the manager has everything she needs, and delegate well. They have managed to snag a position of authority and realize how empty that authority really is. They are a joy to work with.

I’ve found that pool politics are very much personality driven and are not necessarily limited to the position of the president. There is a hierarchy among the guards as well, but hey, we’re talking about teenagers who are only just learning to play the game. Not to mention we’re also talking about lifeguards. Seriously, these are the sort of people who want an easy job where they can get a tan and flirt with each other. They aren’t typically interested in moving up the hierarchy.

But every once in awhile, an adult will become a lifeguard. This is typical for teachers who have summers off but want to supplement their income. I totally understand this and will likely be one of these sorts of people one day, when my kids are old enough, because, if I’m being honest, I loved lifeguarding. I hated the politics, but I was pretty passionate about my whistle, if you remember, so I obviously relished the power of the job. Anyway, when you are a teenager, there is nothing worse than having an adult lifeguard on staff. They truly ruin what might be a relaxing job. They do work. They clean. They don’t friggin’ stop. And they automatically head the hierarchy. It is lame. And they can’t help but get involved in the politics, because somehow or other, they are best friends with the board president. And trust me, if the board president is over-enthusiastic, the first thing he does is hire an adult lifeguard and an adult manager. This guarantees that there is no fun had by anyone. And so, this explains their position within the ranks of pool politics. It is an intrinsic part of their association with the pool. They can’t help it.

For the record, I’m a pool anarchist. Sort of. I think there should be a treasurer, a party planner, a grounds keeper, and a pool manager, but other than that, I think the politics are pretty useless, and they definitely kill the buzz of lounging in the sun and getting paid for it. So if I do become an adult lifeguard, there’s no need to worry, my teenage friends. I’m cool. I’ll work (since I worked pretty hard when I was a teenager), but I won’t be crazy. I promise.

{A note to my sister, who happens to be a 22 year old lifeguard: I understand that you are the head lifeguard and you are super cool, but I don’t consider you an adult lifeguard since you started in the biz as a teenager and haven’t taken a summer off. You are of the in-between variety, which I respect most. You don’t take it for granted that you can do whatever you want and keep your job; you work hard. But you know what it’s like to be a teenager with a summer job at the local pool. Therefore, you are not completely obtuse and ridiculous in your demands. Good job, Sista!}

Swimming pools are loaded with chemicals. This is a good thing… just think about the icky germs people have all over them. Chlorine is masterful at eliminating these germs, if applied in the correct manner and in the right amounts. It isn’t as simple as it may seem, keeping these chemicals balanced. Well, it’s simple enough for teenagers to keep it under control, if they’ve been trained correctly.

But an untrained individual with more eagerness than ability can really make a mess of things if they get their hands on these chemicals. There are two possible outcomes to a mix-up with these chemicals. The first result is a really nasty looking pool.

One of the more prominent members of the pool board one summer really wanted to make a great impression. It was the first full day that the pool was open, Memorial Day Weekend. He wanted the pool to be pristine…to sparkle and shine. What could be a more logical than to put extra chlorine in the pool? Hey, I was seventeen, I probably would have done the same thing. But I would have been wrong, because that day, Mr. Board Member only managed to make the pool a foggy, milky-looking swamp. It was hilarious, mostly because this board member was always making things harder for himself and for the lifeguards. This was no exception, except there was absolutely nothing that could be done to fix it. Hahahaha. Still makes me giggle to this very day.

The second outcome is just as messy. But more of a big, fiery mess type of messy.

 There were two occasions during my tenure as a lifeguard (both occurring in the same summer as the Memorial Day Marsh described above) where we had to call the fire department because the very same board member put the wrong type of chlorine in the “chlorinator,” causing some semi-explosive results. Great fun. It was funnier the second time the same board member didn’t learn from his earlier error and did the same thing over again. Genius. For real. At least we got to shut down the pool for a little while! That is the ultimate goal of every lifeguard – find a way to get the kids out of the pool as frequently as possible. 

Coming from a background in life guarding, I have a deep, deep love for summer rainstorms, particularly the ones that drum up a little thunder action. The best possible time for these bursts to occur is between 2:30pm and 4:00pm. They need to last at least half an hour to convince those twelve year-olds with no patience to ditch the pool instead of attempting to wait out the storm. The more menacing the clouds, the better. Visible lightening strikes enhance the storm’s ability to drive the kids away. Each lightening strike adds thirty minutes to the “no swimming” clock… every thunder rumble adds twenty. At least, I think I’m remembering that correctly… these rules tend to change depending on who happens to be present at the pool during a storm.

If a member of the pool board is on location with their twitty children, you do whatever they say. They write your pay checks. Now, this is not really good lifeguard ethics. I believe fully in the killing power of electricity combined with large masses of water. Not a good combo. In my lifeguard classes, we were told horror stories of lightening that struck a pool and broke all of the cement surrounding the pool, leaving the deck looking remarkably like the set of a Will Smith disaster movie. Of course this may have been an urban legend of sorts… I can’t say either way.

There was an occasion of a late afternoon thunder shower where I flatly refused to watch the pool after a board member insisted that there was no danger from the “heat lightening” and all of the fifty kids at the pool could get back in and risk their lives for a little fun. I, as the professional in charge of these lives, said “Nope. Not on my watch.”

I left the very sweet and eager to please manager to take over my shift on the stand since she was the one who agreed to let the kids back in the pool. But of course, I sat in a chair and did my duties all the same… I mean, it wasn’t the kids’ faults! And I’d prefer for them not to drown while they were dodging lightening bolts. But I resented the heck out of that board member for compromising my ethics and putting us all in imminent danger.

I maintain that this was a stupid thing to do, though everyone made it through the evening unscathed. I lifeguarded for four summers and never once saw a bolt of lightening strike a pool… but still. Fortunately, most afternoons, the pool board members were still at their jobs and their twitty kids were under my care. And I was boss. ::::two short tweets with the whistle:::: “Everybody Out! Lightening!”