The Hay River pool will have a full complement of local staff watching over swimmers this summer.
“Every one of our lifeguards has grown up in this town,” said Heather Tybring, the acting aquatic supervisor and a lifeguard of six years. “A lot of them have come up through the levels since they were eight years old.”
The Town of Hay River employs a total of nine lifeguards to keep watch at the pool and teach swimming lessons. Most are part-time and take on more work when school is out and the summer heat rolls in, attracting residents to the water, but Tybring and Samantha Scheper work full-time, all year round.
“We all get along really well and have a great time at work,” said Scheper. “We have a great group spirit.”
Training begins when children are around eight years old, if they are good swimmers and show an interest.
Tybring said that, between programs like rookie patrol and a summer camp that has a lot of lifeguarding and safety aspects, by the time kids reach 15 and are old enough to be junior lifeguards, they have a good foundation of knowledge.
“That’s my favourite thing, when we can bring them up through the years and really develop their skills and abilities,” she said.
Junior lifeguards obtain the bronze cross and then spend one year assisting a senior lifeguard. Scheper said this is an essential part of the training as the more experienced lifeguard can teach them things that no class can.
“Even if it’s just coming over and saying, ‘Hey, you’ve been watching that kid for a while, maybe take a look at the others, too,’ you’re going to show them a lot just by being there with them and giving them that real-world experience,” she said.
Upon turning 16, they are eligible to take the National Lifeguard Course, the only certification recognized across Canada. That typically involves a number of hours in the pool and a final test. The Don Stewart Recreation Centre will be hosting a certification course over two weekends in June.
For those who have not been brought up through the Hay River pool system, Tybring said people would need to have achieved both bronze medallion and bronze cross levels of swimming, in addition to a First Aid course.
“A couple of years ago we were bringing in instructors from the South,” she said. “But the Lifesaving Society has been working really diligently with us to make sure we can do more here on site.”
Both Tybring and Scheper can teach lifeguarding courses, as can four of the other lifeguards.
While there isn’t necessarily an economic advantage to hiring locally in this case, new interim recreation director Jordan Stackhouse said it’s nonetheless good to see people who know the system join the recreation centre’s team of employees.
“I think Hay River being a larger centre and also having an active swimming program has allowed some of our current employees to grow up around a pool,” he said. “We’ve been offering supervisory and lifeguarding courses through the recreation department for some time now, so I think a combination of those factors has allowed local individuals to get the necessary training to work at the pool.”
While the pool is hardly struggling to retain current employees, Tybring said they are always looking to hire casual workers to fill gaps.
Referring to the upcoming certification course in June, she said she hopes the group that takes it will be able to help out during the busy summer season, noting, “We’re always interested in hiring people who are interested in lifesaving.”
— Sarah Ladik