There is a group of young men and women, many just boys and girls, for whom summer is an eagerly anticipated season. They are known in Spanish as “salvavidas” or “Savior of life”; we call them “lifeguards” in the United States. Remarkably for such an important role, they are mostly young people with an average age of only 16, and most are paid minimum wage or slightly higher.
On June 20, 13 lifeguard candidates − ranging in age from 15 to 56 − completed 24 hours of training through the Lone Pine Unified School District in partnership with Healthy Communities of Southern Inyo County. Many of the candidates were returning lifeguards for the pools in Independence and Lone Pine. There were new lifeguard candidates, one of which was Perry White, the pastor of the Sierra Baptist Church in Independence. “Pastor Perry” plans to volunteer as the lifeguard for the adult lap swimming at the Owens Valley School pool, giving literal as well as metaphysical meaning to “saving lives.”
Others in the lifeguard class are all local high school students or former high school graduates now attending college. The money earned during the summer often helps college students such as Brittany Tweedy, Andrew Wilkinson and Mike Palsrock – all 2012 graduates of Lone Pine High School – pay for their schooling.
The State of California requires that lifeguards be certified in an approved lifeguard training program and that their CPR skills be renewed every year. The length of a lifeguard class can range from 24-30 hours and there is additional training given throughout the summer to reinforce important lifesaving skills such as rescue response time, how to recognize drowning and how to handle serious injuries such as a possible head, neck or back injury.
Why is lifeguard training so very important? Because even at the best-run pools and lakes, someone can drown or be seriously injured in an instant. It only takes 3-4 minutes for a drowning victim to suffer brain damage; the results of which can last a lifetime. Despite numerous pool warning signs and warnings by lifeguards, some swimmers will still dive in shallow water, potentially suffering a head, neck or back injury. And then there are the swimmers who are “runners” while on the deck, either out of enthusiasm or during play. Yes, “tag − you’re it!” is still very popular at the pool. Cuts, bruises and scrapes are among the most common pool injuries and almost all the result of running, slipping and falling.
It is not as easy to spot someone drowning as some might think. A drowning person cannot call out for help; they’re too busy simply trying to stay above water and breathe. While they may be splashing water with their arms, they do not make any forward progress towards safety. Add in that a drowning person is in full-blown state of panic, the result can be deadly. And then there is the victim under the influence of alcohol or drugs; they often simply go under without any signs of struggle and they are much harder to revive when they do drown.
The swimming pools in Independence and Lone Pine are open for the summer. Pool admission at the Independence Pool is free. For information on its Learn-to-Swim program, contact Owens Valley Unified School District at (760) 878-2405.
Admission price for the Lone Pine Memorial Plunge for youth up to 17 is $2.50 daily, $10 for a five-day pass and $20 for a 10-day pass. Adult admission for 18 years of age or older is $5 daily, $20 for five-day pass and $40 for 10-day pass. Swimming lessons are $40 per two-week session. For more information on the pool in Lone Pine, call (760) 876-5040.