Life savers

Hayley Mele-Seibel, 15, watches over the multi-use pool during swim lessons in 2018 at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

There’s still snow on the ground at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center, but the search for lifeguards is warming up.

Pool manager Kasia Robbins said lifeguards get 40 to 45 hours of training, so recruitment starts in the spring to fill positions.

“It’s not an easy training,” she said.

The parks and recreation department will be holding swim tests for applicants at the Boardman Recreation Center March 15-16. The test includes a 300-yard swim, 2-minute water treading session and a timed swim to retrieve a 10-pound brick from 7-10 feet of water. Those who pass can participate in a free lifeguard certification course in April and May.

Katie Bradshaw, a junior who is planning to come back for a second season of lifeguarding this summer, said the distance swim was the part most people struggled with during last year’s swim test.

“I think in my group there were 12 to 15 girls, and I know some of them didn’t pass,” she said.

Bradshaw enjoyed the job and plans to return, but said it’s important for applicants to know that, “even though it’s a fun job, make sure you take it seriously.”

Making sure lifeguards and swim instructors at the aquatic center are good swimmers is crucial, as a life could be on the line. It’s something lifeguards like Kora Tratteen are acutely aware of.

“It’s always my fear of not getting something right, because it could be someone’s life,” she said. “But the training helped.”

Tratteen also plans to return this year. She said she applied last year because she needed a summer job and as a member of the Hermiston High School swim team, it seemed like “a natural fit.”

“The tan was definitely a bonus,” she said.

Robbins said despite a tan being a perk of the job, they do ask their lifeguards to protect themselves with sunscreen and make them “very aware” of the risks of sun and dehydration.

“If they have a longer shift they work a split shift to get them out of the sun, and keep them hydrated,” she said.

Madi Wilson, another returning lifeguard, said that she loves the sense of community and friendship among staff. Coming to work didn’t even really feel like a job, she said, because she had so much fun.

“I get to be outside all day, I get to be in the sun, and I get to help people and make sure they’re safe,” she said.

Lifeguards’ training doesn’t end after taking classes on CPR, rescue techniques and other lifesaving skills. They participate in “shadow shifts” where they accompanied an experienced lifeguard. During the season there are also “live audits” where supervisors get a customer at the pool to pretend they are drowning, while the supervisor watches the lifeguard respond, and then gives them feedback.

Brandon Artz, recreation supervisor, said the aquatic center hires lifeguards of all ages, from 15-year-olds at their first job to teachers looking for something to do on their summer break. They are also hiring a concessions crew, front desk cashiers and facility maintenance positions.

Jessica Campbell is one of the teachers who spends her summer at the aquatic center, working as a lead supervisor. She said she applied three years ago, and has enjoyed it so much she will probably continue to return for years to come.

“Truly, the summers there have been wonderful,” she said. “It’s like a little summer family.”

She said many people have a misperception they need to be on the swim team at their school to apply, but there are plenty of employees at the pool who aren’t. She also said that one thing that holds teens back is worrying that a summer job might make them miss out on a family vacation or sports camp.

“They’re nervous to apply because they don’t want to miss out on those things, but (pool managers) are very accommodating,” she said.

Campbell said there are downsides to the job — it can be a long, hot shift out there some days — but it can be incredibly rewarding, particularly when she sees a lifeguard go through the emotions of having just saved a life.

“You hope you don’t ever have to get in to save somebody, but you do,” she said.

Registration is now open for lifeguards at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center. Registration for the swim tests can be completed online at https://bit.ly/2H9xMkq. Times are March 15 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. and March 16 from 9-10:30 a.m.

News Editor

Hermiston Herald news editor and reporter covering city government and economic development in Hermiston, Umatilla, Stanfield and Echo.

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