Back in my day, we used to walk up hill to and from school! I don’t like to play the cranky old man. I’m not old and I am not cranky (usually). Sometimes you hear things, and you can’t help but scoff at their ridiculousness. I had one of those occasions this past week. We had an article announcing that the NYC Parks Department would be easing the initial testing to become a lifeguard. That really ruffled my feathers.
The previous time of 35 seconds for 50 yards, which had been the benchmark for years, was now going to be eased by a full 10 seconds. In order to qualify for the 16-week lifeguard program, that includes both the city beaches and pools, you would now have to swim 50 yards in 45 seconds. Ten seconds is an eternity in the pool!
Now, as I mentioned, this is just to qualify for the 16-week course. At the end of that course, there is another swim that prospective lifeguards need to pass. To be a pool lifeguard you must swim 440 yards in under 7 minutes and 40 seconds and to be an elite beach lifeguard you must swim 440 yards in under 6 minutes and 40 seconds. The Parks Department has announced that this will not be changing. To that I say, “yeah right!”
If you break down the 440-yard beach lifeguard requirement into 50-yard increments, (and do not get me started on why it is 440 yards and not a distance divisible by 50) you need to swim at a pace of 45.45 seconds for each of those 50 yards. If people are having a difficult time swimming 50 yards once in under 45 seconds, then I would bet my bottom dollar that they will not be able to complete 8.8 of them in under 45.45 seconds consecutively.
So, what will the City do? If I had to guess, they will stick to their guns and protect and important standard that best represents whether or not someone will be able to save another person’s life when the time comes. I would say that they will eventually, maybe even this same year, lower the standard for that portion of the lifeguard hiring process as well. It’s the only logical conclusion. They need more lifeguards and if one end of the qualifications can be lowered then why can’t another?
I was a lifeguard in Riis Park for six years. I think it is one of the best jobs in the world, especially for a young adult just starting to learn to earn a living. It can be, at times, an extremely important job. “Shit gets real, real quick.” In those moments, the lifeguard must be able to do their job and do it proficiently.
Is no lifeguard better than a bad lifeguard? Would it be better to have red flags on a closed beach with no eyes to watch the people who are going to go in the water there regardless? Or, if standards are lowered, will that lifeguard go from being the solution to part of the problem? I really don’t know. Maybe next week I will be on the other side of this fence. I’m easily swayed.
I do, however, believe that there are ways the City can increase its lifeguard numbers without lowering their standards. Why are there so few lap pools in Rockaway? I understand that we have a beach so maybe that sounds greedy but, as those of you who went into the water on New Year’s Day know very well, that water is pretty cold for most of the year. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I believe the majority of City Lifeguards in Rockaway are from Rockaway. Where are they supposed to refine their swimming abilities from one end of the peninsula to the other? The YMCA is a great option, and the community is thrilled to have it, but we need more.
Calling Senator Schumer, Calling Senator Schumer – where’s that pool for Riis Park you promised?
Not only should there be more pools, but there should be more organized swim teams. CYO does a great job, but they are limited in resources. For many lifeguards, that is the only competitive swimming they will do in their lives. Why should kids from the City have to travel out to Long Island to find a competitive swim team?
Long Island has a great tradition of a Junior Lifeguard programs. NYC Parks should work to implement something similar. This would create a pipeline of future lifeguards to staff the City’s pools and beaches while also teaching kids at a young age how to handle themselves in the water.
For the most part, the drownings that we saw last year were not lifeguard related. The majority were cases of people in the water after lifeguards were off duty. Why not implement an overtime to extend the hours that lifeguards are on duty on certain days? The “green men” (“green people” aka PEP officers) have an impossible job of playing party pooper. They are also not trained or dressed to enter the water if they had to. Why not have a certified lifeguard in that role? There seems to me to be other solutions.
Rockaway has some of the toughest waters on the east coast. Locals know this from years of experience. The lifeguards play such an important role in keeping both locals and out-of-towners safe – day in and day out. I hope that the City will recognize that before it is brought to their attention another way.
By Sean McVeigh