C Force: Giving Lifeguards Their Due as Their Risks Increase
During many of last weekend's events and commemorations, essential workers such as nurses and doctors were also acknowledged, along with police officers and firefighters. Left out was an important group of protectors: our lifeguards.
"Lifeguarding has always been a high-risk job. But amid the coronavirus pandemic, those who work to protect beachgoers are facing a new level of danger," Time magazine recently pointed out.
"Open water lifeguards are trained to act as first responders for all manner of medical emergencies that can happen at the beach, often putting them in close proximity to beach patrons," it adds. Those lifeguards interviewed for the report from around the country expressed concern that the unique nature of lifeguarding will lead to a high level of risk of exposure to coronavirus this summer.
On May 18, at the time of the report, no foolproof method to guarantee lifeguards protection from infection was available. Questions such as how to safely perform CPR or how to prevent the spread of the virus among their own ranks had no clear answer. For teenage and college-aged lifeguards who work at seasonal beaches, the status of some of their summer jobs was still up in the air.
As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 25% of people infected with the virus may not show symptoms. According to Cary Epstein, the owner of professional lifeguarding service Epi-Center Rescue and a longtime lifeguard at Jones Beach in Wantagh, New York, this statistic alone requires lifeguards to operate under the assumption that everyone they come in contact with on the beach is infected and to interact with them as such.
"When lifeguards need to rush to the aid of a swimmer who is struggling in the water, (personal protective equipment) that works on land isn't applicable," says Time. "There's this whole other issue of how do we have the same conversation (about safety) when we talk about making water rescues. Because that's what we do," Epstein adds.
It is important we consider what they do and these new risks they are being required to take. During the 2018 heat wave that lasted from Friday, July 20 to Sunday, July 22, the Los Angeles County Fire Department's lifeguard division responded to 477 ocean rescues, 521 medical aids and 621 emergency vehicle rescues. Yes, lifeguarding has always been a high-risk job. But amid the coronavirus pandemic, those who work to protect us face an entirely new level of danger.
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