Kayden Anderson wants everyone to know that lifeguard duty isn’t like in the movies.
Films tend to show lifeguards sitting in a chair towering over a large public pool filled with raucous young people.
That’s not the case at the Firstenburg Community Center, where Anderson spends her shifts on her feet constantly walking around the pool – a routine she calls being “on deck.”
“It’s not like the ‘Sandlot,’” she said with a laugh, referring to the popular 1993 movie and its infamous pool scene. “It’s nothing like that.”
“We’re constantly walking and roaming to make sure we have maximum views of our zones,” she said.
In fact, being a lifeguard isn’t exactly a casual summer job. To land it, applicants must be in top shape. That was easy for Anderson, who is a swimmer.
“I’ve always been attracted to water. I’ve been going to Firstenburg Community Center since before I could even walk, so it’s always been tied to me in that way,” she said. “Lifeguarding is about saving lives; it doesn’t happen often but mostly it’s focusing to make sure it’s safe and that people are having the best time, safely, in the pool.”
Things have changed a lot for the city’s community centers since the pandemic began, but the swimming pools are slowly reverting to some pre-pandemic policies. The city is currently working to hire more lifeguards to monitor returning visitors.
“We will follow whatever guidelines the state sets for aquatics facilities in relation to COVID,” said City of Vancouver Marketing Manager Melody Burton. “We don’t know what that will look like after June 30 yet, but anticipate there will be some changes coming.”
The Columbian caught up with Anderson, an 18-year-old Battle Ground High School graduate, to learn more about her job.
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What has work been like during the pandemic?
We all went home in March 2020; we didn’t work until the center could reopen. Even then hours were very limited – it was only aquatics classes and we had to have them spaced out. Now we’re sanitizing everything after someone touches it. We close the whole pool to sanitize between classes. We have these rescue masks that we (normally) carry in our training packs. That is now in our emergency equipment in our first aid room. But because of COVID-19, we have special attachments that can’t get wet. If we’re teaching lessons, we have to have protective face shields. The teachers don’t have to wear masks in the pool, but we have to wear it on deck. We have to take it off if we do a rescue so we don’t suffocate.
What are some of the challenges you face in this job?
You never know when you will have a guest in distress. It can be stressful, especially when there’s a guest exhibiting traits; not being in complete distress but let’s say a guest falls down and you don’t know the severity of that fall. You don’t know if they’ve broken anything or if they just slipped on the deck. Sometimes it can go from an easy shift to a high-pressure shift.
Have you ever had to save someone’s life?
Thankfully I’ve personally not had to do that yet. We are pretty good about making sure everybody is safe in our pool and catching situations before they become very dire.
What are your plans for the long-term future?
In September I want take a course to become an emergency medical technician. I’d take my experience as a lifeguard and knowledge of first aid and apply it to more high-pressure situations.
Why do you like high-pressure situations?
I personally just want to be able to help people, especially when they’re in extreme distress. I want to let them know I’m going to do my best to make sure they’re OK.
What are the physical requirements to be a lifeguard for the city?
You have to be able to swim 200 meters nonstop. You have to make it from one side to the other side of pool in 20 seconds. If someone’s in distress you have to be able to respond quickly. You have to be able to get a brick from the bottom of the pool and tread water without using your hands for two minutes.
Why do you find this work rewarding?
It’s rewarding because I can provide that sense of calm when someone is in a panic. I can make sure someone has a good experience even if it’s a bad day. It allows them to have a sense of ease and I can provide that transition from panic to calm and to having a memorable experience at our community center where they can have better memories when they come in.