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Lifeguard on duty: Swim at your own risk

A lifeguard watches over swimmers at 63rd Street Beach in Chicago on Tuesday. State guidelines say where lifeguards are required, there must be a minimum of one per 100 bathers or 2,000 square feet of water surface area. ( Armando L. Sanchez, Chicago Tribune / June 17, 2012 )

A lifeguard watches over swimmers at 63rd Street Beach in Chicago on Tuesday. State guidelines say where lifeguards are required, there must be a minimum of one per 100 bathers or 2,000 square feet of water surface area. ( Armando L. Sanchez, Chicago Tribune / June 17, 2012 )

Lifeguards at Pioneer Park pool in Arlington Heights always have to be on alert — for swimmers in trouble, but also for the lifeguard certification agency that could show up at any time to videotape them on duty, conduct a simulated drowning or quiz them on proper rescue techniques.

Pool managers also perform unannounced drills. At one drill Tuesday, a pool manager tossed a baby mannequin into the deep end from outside the view of the lifeguard on duty. The guard calmly but quickly stood up, blew her whistle three times, jumped in and fished out the doll in a matter of seconds.

In response to drowning deaths, lawsuits, improved training and rescue techniques and the proliferation of risk managers, lifeguards at public pools and beaches in the Chicago area appear to receive more rigorous training than ever before.

Many area park districts rely on national certification agencies like the American Red Cross and Jeff Ellis & Associates that focus on constant vigilance to prevent drownings. The training regimens may require off-season instruction, weekly refreshers during the summer and the passage of surprise drills and inspections. Park district insurance companies also typically require audits and intense oversight of lifeguards.

Read more at the Chicago Tribune.

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