Lifeguards at Forest Park Aquatic Center watch out for kids who enter the zero-entry baby pool and get into the deeper end before they’re aware.
They watch for kids who get on Fast Freddy waterslide to find water over their heads at the bottom of the slide.
And they watch for kids who dive off of the springboards into the diving pool and struggle to reach the side.
Lifeguards are always watching the baby pool, the waterslide and the diving pool -- these three areas at Forest Park Aquatic Center -- where during the 2018 summer pool season, there were about 180 “saves.”
“A save is when someone is not able to swim, and we have to get in and get them out,” said Chandler Parrish, 20, Noblesville, a lifeguard manager at the aquatic center. The 2017 NHS graduate, a Purdue University junior studying industrial engineering, has been a lifeguard for five years.
“I’ve probably had a hundred saves, making sure a kid doesn’t drown,” Parrish said.
“Most of them are at the bottom of that slide that’s too fast for them or too strong. They’ll just keep getting pushed, and they can’t get out,” said Parrish, pointing to the popular Fast Freddy waterslide that dumps into 5 feet of water in the Olympic-size 50-meter pool. “There are times, over here in the main pool, where a kid is not tall enough and can’t touch (the bottom) will get in and swim, and then they get tired, but they’re in the middle of the pool, and you have to get in and get them,” he said.
Parrish watches for kids whose faces “get really red or sometimes their eyes just get really big and they look right at you, and that’s when you know to go (jump in). You can just see it, and you know to go.”
Parrish said, “It’s just pure instinct.”
Bailey Huemann, another lifeguard manager, a ‘17 NHS grad and Purdue junior studying mechanical engineering, has done about 60 saves in his two years lifeguarding at the pool.
“Kids go down the slide, and they can’t really fight the current, so they’re struggling underwater, so I have to jump in and pull them out. Or a kid goes too far in the baby pool, and they start struggling, so I have to get in and pull them out,” said Huemann, who was on the swim team in high school and who last year worked as a head guard.
During Forest Park Aquatic Center’s 2018 summer pool season, there were about 180 “saves,” which means “jumping in and helping kids get to the side in diving and at the bottom of Fast Freddy and in the baby pool,” said Kim Bowling, the pool’s director.
She said, “This is not out of the norm, and although 180 seems alarming, guards may be quick to jump, and the swimmer will ask, ‘Why did you?’”
The lifeguard managers agreed that their lifeguard training was good, and they were a little nervous until using their skills for the first time, on their first save. It got easier after that.
Huemann said, “They teach you basics on what to do in certain situations. But it’s hard to know exactly what to do unless you’re in a situation.”
Parrish, who once used his CPR training to save the life of a man having a seizure in his car, said, “What they teach in the class is good, but it doesn’t really help until you actually do it. That’s where I learned, when something actually happened, and I had to figure it out.”
In 2018, there were only two incidents where EMS had to be called due to minor medical issues.
Lifeguards constantly watch for signs of struggles in the water.
On Thursday, we watched as a lifeguard perched beside the diving pool noticed a young female swimmer appearing to struggle, and the guard quickly jumped into the water to make sure the child had safely reached the edge of the pool, while the mom had a question on her face.
“We’d rather get in and save them, and they be perfectly fine,” said Nick Beeson, one of five head lifeguards at the aquatic center, who sat on his tall guard chair keeping an eye on swimminers in the adjacent Olympic-size pool.
What do lifeguards look for? “Emotion and distress,” said Beeson, who watches faces closely. He does five to 10 saves per day.
Beeson, who learned to swim at age 7 and had many of his lessons at the aquatic center, hopes for a career in law enforcement. The 17-year-old, a senior at NHS, is in his second year guarding and is among five head guards at the aquatic center. There’s usually one or two head guards per shift. “We’re training to become managers,” said Beeson, who also worked in the concession stand and at the front desk before he was old enough to be a lifeguard.
In Indiana, lifeguards must be at least 15 years old and pass certain swimming requirements and lifeguarding, CPR and First Aid certifications.
Bowling said there is definitely a shortage of lifeguards and a lot of pools are struggling to staff their pools. “Fortunately for us, I have a lot of my swimmers working as guards and the kids can be lifeguard certified at Noblesville High School during the school free of charge,” she said. If someone would like to be certified with American Red Cross, it would cost $350, she said.
Lifeguards are hired each April with many returning staff members. A minimum of 10 staff members are needed to open the facility with an additional four for front desk and concessions.
“Most of the kids start in concessions as their first job and move to guarding when 15 and certified,” Bowling said.
New in concessions this year at the aquatic center are pizza and Sam’s Club hot dogs. Money raised at the annual Brewfest was spent on new rubber flooring mats for both locker rooms, guard room and concessions.
Friends of Central Pool, a nonprofit that manages the aquatic center, is also managing Morse Beach again this year. Aquatic center membership includes admission to the beach, located at Morse Beach Park north of Noblesville, near 196th Street and Hague Road.
The entrance to the beach has been moved to the front of the building. A concession stand will also be open so that patrons in the park have access. Snacks, water and soft drinks, as well as bait, thanks to Schwartz’s Bait & Tackle, is for sale at the beach.
While lifeguards from the aquatic center also work at Morse Beach, the guards are only monitors and are there for medical needs, and it is “swim at your own risk.”
Bowling said staffing the beach has been more difficult as kids are very nervous about monitoring murky water or don’t like going in where they can’t see the bottom.
She said, “I do have a core group out there that did some open-water training during their certification class, and they love being out there. So that has been a saving grace.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.