In the 1940s, being a life guard meant little more than slinging an arm over a distressed swimmer, dragging him or her to shore (or the deck) and basking in the praise of scantily clad onlookers of the opposite sex.
These days, practicing lifeguards are drilled in current first-aid techniques, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated defibrillators, and that’s only once they get a victim out of the water.
Albert Cahill has watched the profession change over the course of six decades.
As he celebrated his 79th birthday Wednesday, Jan. 31, he was eager to take on his next group of aspiring guards in one of his American Red Cross Lifeguard Training courses held at Shaker High School.
He has been an instructor since 1944.
Basically you had no CPR training. You would sit on their back, put your legs over their hips and it was in with the good air out with the bad, said Cahill. `Today a lifeguard is down to business.`
Most lifeguards enter the field at age 15. Making their way through the more than 30 hours of courses and hands-on training, as well as the 500-yard required swim, is just the beginning. Many waterfront facilities and municipal pools require lifeguards to undergo annual or seasonal training to keep them up to speed with new techniques and dealing with the public, Cahill said.
It has become a highly professional job and requires professionally trained guards, even at age 15, he said.
`A lot of people think lifeguarding is sunshine, suntans and good parties. Today there is a lot more demand placed upon them,` Cahill said.
There is no shortage of aspiring guards that make their way out every season to Cahill’s courses, or others offered throughout the state, but there is a shortage of lifeguards statewide, he said.
Even the smallest of pools or waterfronts now require professionally trained guards to be on duty during swimming hours, he said. Before, the areas may have been known as watering holes, but as more and more recreational areas spring up, on the to-do list is landing a trained and certified guard.
Many guards are now coming out of certification programs offered at local schools, said Cahill. Only a handful go through the American Red Cross programs.
Colonie’s town pools are predominately under the watchful eyes of guards trained through a certification program at Shaker High School. Many guards tend to stay the summers through high school and college at the town’s pool.
As far as summer jobs go, it is one of the tougher ones, said Cahill.
`We don’t have much turnover. They (lifeguards) kind of hang on for three or four years,` said Donald A. Myers, superintendent of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department.
The department oversees 12 lifeguards who work at the town’s pool facility.
The guards are good, and so far no complaints have come in, said Myers.
Years ago Cahill used to give seasonal refresher courses to Colonie’s lifeguards.
Today, those guards undergo three days of training in the opening week of the pools, said Myers. It assures the guards are up to speed and on the same page, he said.
That is to assure the professionalism and performance of pool staff, said Cahill.
This year’s lifeguard training in scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26, and continues through Monday, May 14. Classes run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Students must be 14 to enroll and 15 years old by the final date of the program.
For information or to enroll call the American Red Cross at 458-8111, ext. 3035, or visit www.redcrossneny.org.