I had just arrived at work early on Labor Day. Knowing that the day would be busy, I planned to work out before I started my shift and had my rescue truck fully prepared.
As always, I had my rescue radio on “just in case …”
Suddenly, my radio crackled from the fire dispatcher: “Possible drowning in the mid-beach area … no further information available.”
My day, my job as a lifeguard, had begun.
I clearly remember my first summer as a lifeguard on the New Jersey shore. For a high-school and collegiate swimmer like me, there wasn’t a better summer job I could have.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
– Albert Camus
After a chilly June swim tryout in the ocean, the beach patrol captain held interviews. He reviewed my qualifications, then asked how long I planned on being a lifeguard.
Thinking I had a great answer, I responded, “The rest of my life.” With a puzzled look the captain replied, “I meant, ‘How long for the summer?’ Will you be leaving for school before or after Labor Day?” Little did he know I literally meant the rest of my life!
From that first summer on, I knew that this was the profession for me. Living in New Jersey, it would be only a seasonal job, and I would have to find employment during the off-season. Having earned a teaching degree in college, I became a teacher. My summers were free to pursue my lifeguarding career.
This cycle lasted for a couple of years before the call to be a professional lifeguard became my priority. I decided that I needed to go where that could be done year-round – Florida!
Lifeguards for the city of Coronado Fire Department in California use a Subaru Baja on the beach.
Currently, I have 20 years of service with the city of Miami Beach Fire Department/Ocean Rescue Division. During the last decade, lifeguard agencies have become a valuable part of the fire/rescue service.
The position of lifeguard has changed and grown. It now is recognized as an important link in the emergency medical system (EMS). Aside from ocean rescue skills, lifeguards in Florida are trained emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics with the ability to respond to all beach emergencies.
Thinking back, it’s funny to remember that I would have only my whistle, suntanning lotion (no sunscreen in those days!), and rescue buoy to take to my lifeguard stand. Today, I drive a fully equipped rescue vehicle with a wide array of rescue gear and medical equipment. The job had changed!