Mount Rainier Pool looking to grow its own ‘pool’ of new lifeguards

Mount Rainier Pool’s junior lifeguard cadets recently visited the Des Moines station of South King Fire & Rescue to learn first-hand what happens when a lifeguard has to call 911 and triggers an emergency response.

It’s part of the pool’s effort to solve one of the major problems facing pool operators these days — finding enough lifeguards and swim instructors. There are literally hundreds of unfilled lifeguard positions, so much so that neither SeaTac or Federal Way will be guarding Angle and Steel lakes this summer. The same shortage is true for indoor pools.

Organizers at Mount Rainier Pool are determined to “grow our own pool of lifeguards through our junior lifeguard program that we call AquaGuards.”

“We’re taking middle schoolers and both familiarizing and preparing them to eventually take their Red Cross Certification tests when they turn 15,” they added.

There is an additional purpose. The pool management is intent on making the diversity of the guard staff reflect that of the community. That means hiring more people of color and addressing language barriers.

Part of the education of our AquaGuard cadets is to acquaint them with a global perspective of what being a lifeguard entails.
This week we visited the fire department to learn how the Medic One crews respond, as well as the firefighters. Under the watchful eye of Capt. Jeff Bellinghausen, our young people explored both the Medic One and Fire & Rescue equipment. They were able to question actual paramedics and firefighters.

“We’re intent on making sure these young people not only have the physical skill sets necessary to be lifeguards, but also an appreciation of how important their role will be in the community,” said Gene Achziger, Outreach coordinator for Mount Rainier Pool.

Future trips will be to a dispatch center, and to the fire and rescue boats moored at the Des Moines Marina.

“We are also working to give our cadets instruction in customer service and conflict resolution, skills that will benefit them both on the job and in their personal lives,” Achziger said. “We’re looking to produce well-rounded and responsible young adults.

The cadets recently helped with a fundraiser to assure that younger kids will also have an opportunity to learn to swim and participate in the AquaGuard program. They raised $600 for swimming scholarships at the Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market recently.

Mount Rainier Pool’s dedication to training new lifeguards has caught the attention of healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente. Victoria Garcia, the Community Health Manager for Kaiser wrote:

“We are impressed with your visionary approach to building lifeguard skills among youth younger than 15 years old given the shortage of lifeguards in the area – particularly among youth of color. We very much like the water competency, safety and workforce development aspects of the program.”

Kaiser Permanente granted $10,000 to fund the program.

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