During the hot days of summer, many Airmen and their families head to the pool or beach to escape the heat and relax. While enjoying the water, they may not think of those who watch over them and keep them safe: the lifeguards. Many of them may also not realize that becoming a lifeguard themselves is possible through the Ramstein Aquatic Center.
The center offers a weeklong course that teaches students everything they need to know to be a certified lifeguard. It covers basic first aid, CPR, various rescue scenarios and more. A full day is dedicated to CPR alone, showing students what to do in a number of situations.
“It gives them a real breakdown of many different scenarios that aren’t offered in other classes,” said Andrew Broadwater, Ramstein Aquatic Center supervisory recreation specialist lifeguard and course instructor. “They’re trained on things like what to do first if there’s a drowning versus nondrowning victim, if it’s an infant rather than an adult or their roles depending on how many rescuers you have responding. All of that comes into teaching CPR for the professional rescuer that you don’t get in those lower-level courses. It’s very intricate.”
For many students, the biggest draw to the course is becoming qualified in something that can lead to employment but also relates to an enjoyable pastime.
“I’m an avid swimmer myself. I grew up swimming in lakes, rivers and the ocean, so this seems like a really useful skill,” said Kathryn Postma, Ramstein Aquatic Center lifeguard course student. “I have a lot of younger cousins and sisters that I watch, so this expands the realms of things I can do, both recreationally and as a job.”
While the lifeguard course may seem like a simple solution to find work, some students find the curriculum more difficult than they anticipated.
Each student must pass prerequisites to show they are physically capable of providing assistance to an injured swimmer. This includes swimming 300 meters using the front crawl or breaststroke, treading water for two minutes without using their hands, and swimming 20 meters, diving down eight to 10 feet to pick up a 10-pound brick and swimming back with it in both hands. All of these skills will aid the students when it comes to a real-life scenario.
“The two minutes of treading water without the use of hands and swimming with the brick, those both come into play when dealing with submerged head, neck or spinal injuries,” Broadwater said. “You have to stabilize the victim with both hands and bring them up to the surface, then be able to support this person and yourself above the water so both can breathe while still maintaining stabilization. It’s a lot of physical exertion.”
The arduous physical side of the lifeguard course can come as a surprise to some students, but other aspects can be easier than expected.
“It’s a lot harder to support another person correctly than I originally thought, but it’s also easier to get to the bottom of the pool than I anticipated,” Postma said. “It was surprising because you think 14 feet is really deep.”
When a student struggles with the prerequisites, they are encouraged to take the time until the next course to practice and strengthen their swimming skills. If a student also has trouble with a particular type of rescue or technique during the class, Broadwater works with them until they have a better understanding.
“I try to do a good job as an instructor to help people pass,” Broadwater said. “I spend extra time working with people who are struggling in certain areas. I’d say 95 percent of people who take the full course pass.”
The skills taught in the lifeguard course can reach beyond the water, and those who have undergone the training often find themselves using their knowledge in unexpected situations and surroundings.
“People usually get certified as a lifeguard and they have a plan, but you always end up using it outside of whatever you planned,” Broadwater said. “My first rescue was at an apartment complex two weeks after I was certified. I was a part of a skit at Vacation Bible School and wasn’t even near the pool, but I could see it from my vantage point. I saw someone jump into the deep end of the pool, and they didn’t know how to swim. I never expected to use my training there.”
Broadwater also had a group of students in the course last year who were able to assist their friend who was choking because of the knowledge they attained during the class. This use of the skills taught during the course is one of the reasons people sign up.
“I was really looking forward to the CPR and first-aid certification,” Postma said. “I am a babysitter, so learning this is something that’s really useful. I’ve never had CPR training, and it’s an important skill not only for lifeguarding but in life.”
Through the lifeguard course, the Ramstein Aquatic Center is helping KMC members learn a new skill to better themselves and enable them to possibly save lives both in and out of the pool.