By Dan Warren
I’ve been a member of the Houston Fire Fighters Credit Union for over 15 years and on occasion I find myself in a very long line at the teller counter. When I find myself in this situation it’s not uncommon to strike up a conversation with a fireman.
Recently, I mentioned to another member that I worked in aquatic safety, training and monitoring lifeguards. He looked at me for a second with deep consideration and then stated that he had nothing but the fullest admiration for lifeguards. He went on to share that when he first became a fireman he went through hundreds of hours of intensive first responder training. He said that even with all the in-depth training nothing could have prepared him for the first time he witnessed a catastrophic accident. He related the situation to the opening scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where Tom Hanks is shell shocked at Omaha Beach, Normandy. He went on to say that when he was on a rookie ride along his sole responsibility was to observe and learn; a sort of “Dress Rehearsal” if you will. The first lesson he took away from the experience was that when faced with reality, in lieu of scenario, the true definition of “fight or flight” kicks in. Where moments mean the difference between life and death, freezing is not an attribute a first responder can afford — for life’s sake. Since that first ride along he has become desensitized too much of the mayhem which allows him to be effective in his role.
His daughter had recently completed a lifeguarding course over a span of three days and even as we spoke she was riding a guard stand. 40 hours of training and now she sat perched on the front line as our best defense against drowning. He stated the reality of there being no “dress rehearsals” for lifeguards and that the first time they are called to action is most likely the first time they have ever been involved in a severe medical emergency with no one in the wings to prod them if they freeze. Desensitization is a luxury that lifeguards don’t have…
“Teenagers… Teenagers, with toddlers’ lives in their hands.”
Wow – It took a minute for the room to stop spinning. I offered him my hand and thanked him for enlightening me to a perspective that should have been clear to me from the inception of my professional aquatic career.
A simple five minute conversation with a stranger had reinvigorated my passion to reach young lifeguards and instill in them the dire importance of their position.
“There are no dress rehearsals in Lifeguarding.”