Town employees will be patrolling Hay River’s public beach seven days a week starting later this month, but people involved in the initiative caution that the new beach attendants are not equal to fully trained lifeguards.
“Their main job is to promote safe use of the beach,” said Heather Tybring, the lifeguard supervisor at the Don Stewart Recreation Centre who will also be managing the beach attendants. “If they see a situation happening they’ll intervene and they can respond to small incidents.”
The Lifesaving Society will be partnering with the municipality to train the attendants in public relations, education, incident prevention and response.
They will be trained in first aid as well as shallow-water rescue techniques, which means they will be mandated to respond in up to 1.2 metres of water. When asked whether beach attendants would enter deeper water if they saw someone in distress, Tybring would only say that attenants are mandated only to call the appropreate responders, including the fire department, Coast Guard and ambulance services.
Tybring said they are being trained up to a depth of 1.2 and encouraged to stay within the limits of their training.
“The attendant program is a lifesaving course, not a lifeguarding course,” she explained, saying that the latter comes with more knowledge and responsibilities.
Kris Johnson, regional superintendent of the North Slave region for Industry, Tourism and Investment, said it was possible for GNWT-employed Long Lake beach attendants starting work this week in Yellowknife could step beyond the 1.2 metre depth for a rescue if they feel able to help.
“I would say yes as long as it is within (the beach attendants’) skilled ability and training,” said Johnson. “I wouldn’t expect somebody to go out there that didn’t have the skills to do that and I wouldn’t ask anyone to do it who wasn’t confident in doing it.
“They are trained to look at each situation and they need to make sure their own safety is paramount.”
The new addition comes as a direct result of the drowning of a boy in Yellowknife’s Fred Henne Territorial Park last summer. The GNWT implemented the beach attendant program at the two territorial parks with beaches suitable for swimming, but partnered with the municipality to deliver it in Hay River.
Industry, Tourism and Investment minister David Ramsay came down last Thursday for the announcement and touted the ability of governments to work together to make beaches safer for residents.
“I want to congratulate the Town of Hay River on its leadership in making this beach safer,” he said. “Hopefully it will encourage people to get outdoors and enjoy the summer when the warmer weather finally arrives.”
Mayor Andrew Cassidy was also on-hand for the announcement and he too spoke of the collaboration between the GNWT and the municipality.
“It’s just showing the partnership we continue to maintain and will make the beach a safer place for all residents to get out and enjoy the spectacular beauty of our territory,” he said.
The plan is for the attendants to work between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day of the week, beginning later this month after their training. Children under 12 will be required to have a parent or guardian present in order to use the beach.
Tybring said the attendants will also be delivering the popular Water Smart program at the beach this summer – a course for young children that helps them become familiar with the water and instills good safety practices at an early age.
“It’s had a great response,” said Tybring, noting that 314 kids from all over the South Slave and Deh Cho went through the program in the last year.
“It’s really an open water program, though we’ve been doing it at the pool because that’s what we have. It’ll be great to have it outside … more like a fun day at the beach for kids and their parents.”
– Sarah Ladik with files from Simon Whitehouse