Supplement Feature - February 2009
Find a printable version here

At the Ready

Staffing Aquatic Facilities

By Jessica Royer Ocken

King County Parks Division
Near Seattle, Washington

What they have: Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center is a year-round, indoor facility and part of the legacy of the 1990 Seattle Goodwill Games. The Parks Division also operates another year-round indoor pool and two seasonal outdoor pools.

What they offer: All the facilities offer public programs including open swim, family swim, lap swimming, water exercise classes, swimming lessons, lifeguard training and water safety instructor courses, as well as special programming such as April Pools Day and float-in movies. In addition, a variety of swimming and diving teams (USA-level, masters and high school) practice at the aquatic center.

Staff size: The aquatic center has a staff of 60 to 75 people (including 30 to 45 part-time lifeguards and swim instructors and one full-time guard/instructor).

Required training: Lifeguarding or instructor candidates must have the following certifications from the American Red Cross: Lifeguard Training/First Aid, CPR/AED for the Professional Rescuer, Bloodborne Pathogen Training, and Water Safety Aide or Water Safety.

"Additionally, we require the Northwest Lifeguard Preparation Course," explained David Hersey, aquatic facility coordinator. "This course was developed by a few agencies in the greater Seattle area and incorporates skills from the pre-1995 lifeguarding course."

Once hired, guards participate in regular in-service training sessions. The rescue skills a lifeguard uses are divided up, and each in-service focuses on three or four so all are reviewed and practiced over the course of the year.

"Additionally, we hold a 'Skill Builder' session with the other King County Parks facilities just before the summer season," Hersey added. "It's a one-day seminar when staff from different locations can interact with one another and learn from trainers they wouldn't see otherwise."

How they make it work: Flexibility is key in keeping King County's aquatic center staffed and ready. The other King County facilities are spread far and wide, so rather than sharing staff among their own locations, the aquatic center often accommodates the scheduling challenges of part-time staff who also work at pools operated by other agencies.

To keep the lifeguard roster full, Hersey starts interviewing for seasonal positions in December, while college students are home on winter break.

"Typically just after [our aquatic facilities] open in the spring, lifeguard and WSI courses are held to expand the staff when the school year ends and the facilities are open longer hours," explained Hersey.

And this isn't the only way he stays on top of certifications. "With CPR/AED and Bloodborne Pathogen Training being one-year certifications, that makes it easy to track."

Because lifeguarding and first aid are three-year certifications, guards may occasionally need to be recertified mid-summer. But because the aquatic center offers training courses on-site, these guards can just join the spring classes and be ready to go by the time the expanded summer schedule starts.

Of course, it's not just certification convenience that draws staff to the aquatic center. "In 2000, we significantly increased the starting wage of the part-time staff," Hersey said. "Additionally, there is now an annual cost-of-living adjustment to those wages, so I'm receiving far more applications than I need to maintain a healthy staff."

Hersey conceded that there's a constant flow to his staff—new guards coming on and older guards leaving for a "real job"—but he's learned to use the experience and loyalty of those who stay around year after year.

"My goal is to build and maintain a committed core of 10 to 12 lifeguards who I can rely on under any circumstances," he said. "Here we unofficially call them 'leads.' The leads open and close the facility, help train new lifeguards and instructors, and help coordinate the lifeguards' duties while off rotation."

A final point in King County's favor? Hersey works to build fun into the guards' experience. Lifeguard competitions are part of in-service training sessions, and King County supports their lifeguards' participation in the local Lifeguard Games. Hersey snaps a group picture of his guards whenever he can, and there are two staff parties during the year: a summer potluck picnic and an on-site staff dinner to celebrate the end of the year, complete with an opportunity to jump off the diving towers and play in the water, not just watch other people play.