Like the famous lifeguards that came before them — Larry the Lobster, Mitch Buchannon, Wendy Peffercorn — Marshfield’s watchers from above are just trying to keep your summer afloat.
Some of them seem almost destined for it. Nineteen-year-old John Gray is one of over 20 people doing the job at the beautiful new pool that opened in late May. The Drury student’s grandfather John was a lifeguard decades ago, and his mother, Tracy, also did the job at the nearly 40-year-old pool that shut down prior to the newest one.
"Now here I am doing it at this one, it’s in my blood," Gray joked. "I just needed a summer job, and my mom kind of nudged me in this direction. It’s been a fun one."
Briana Bartow, 27, is also a veteran to the Marshfield pool game. She began working at the previous pool from the time she was 15, and before it was shut down, became the head lifeguard, a post she also holds at the new digs. She was approached in late winter to take that position and now oversees the over 20 other lifeguards on the roster.
"It's just basically making sure the lifeguards are doing their job, make sure stuff is clean," Bartow said.
She also has the responsibility of coordinating the schedules of all those lifeguards. That requires dancing around the requests for vacations and time off for other obligations. A good number of those who work there are either high school or college athletes, too, so when asked if making the scheduling pieces fall into place is seamless, Bartow’s response was "Not really," at least at first.
"The first two months, these kids were overworked, a lot," Bartow said. "But when we got more new guards about two or three weeks ago, it helped a lot and evened out the hours. We had 18 initially, but two didn't show up to training, and one left to do an internship for school, so then it was down to 15. Once we got the new ones, that made it easier on [the ones that were here]. Now instead of working over 40 hours, they're down to around 30 and they can have a summer, even though it’s almost over."
Like the others, Bartow arrives 30 minutes before the pool opens. She opens up registers, puts a specific amount of cash in each and then goes to test the chlorine and pH in the pool. She'll continue with preparation, checking bathrooms and spotting the pool deck to see if anything was missed. And though she has experience as the head guard in charge, she says it’s a little bit of an adjustment with the various luxuries of the new pool.
"It took a bit to figure out the proper rotations and how to do everything," Bartow said. "At the old pool, the max we would have is four lifeguards, but that’s only if we were really busy. There, we had just a deep end and a diving board, and most times we would only have two. Here we’ve got a play structure, lily pads."
Some of that takes away a clear line of sight, but regardless, anywhere from four to six lifeguards can be on duty at a time at the new pool.
Emily Aldridge, 17, is one of the guards who’s been part of the process since the beginning of the summer. Like the rest, she’ll also arrive early pre-opening tasks. That means the routine setup that includes the chairs, tables and umbrellas, as well as prepping the concession stand.
As the rotations go, it’s a station-by-station system that sees each guard spending 20 minutes at each. It begins at the lily pads, followed by another under the slide, then on top of the side. A guard will then come off, then return to monitor the deep end. That’s followed by a shift at the lazy river and a last stop in the kiddie section before coming off again.
Lifeguards were trained by the Red Cross at Missouri State University in the spring. Aldridge described the CPR portion, detailing how the group that went practiced on a number of mannequins lined up for hours, as lifeguards had to master the proper varying techniques on people of all ages.
"We all tested over it and passed with flying colors, though," Aldridge said.
Olivia Dill plays basketball at Missouri Southern, where she already had the advantage of being trained to administer in a first aid class, but still said there were challenges to the weekend of testing, one of which included having to dive to the bottom of the 12-foot pool, bring someone up to the surface and onto a tube and pull them out before giving CPR to what at that point was one of the mannequins.
"We had a lot of fun, and we also learned a lot," Dill said. "I didn't know if we would be able to retain all of it, but we've remembered what we’re supposed to do, and that’s the important part."
There's only been one serious incident this summer. One swimmer had an incident going off the diving board, and though he was able to get out by himself, ended up passing out and having a seizure. Dill, being one of the older lifeguards on duty, put the gloves on within the building and patched that person up after he had gotten out of the water.
That happened on the third day the pool had been opened, making for what Dill called "definitely an experience." Otherwise, though, Bartow describes this summer at the new pool as pretty uneventful compared to other summers with broken arms and other injuries that can happen.
"Part of it is because you’ve got good guards working for you," Bartow said. "They're out there doing a good job, and you don’t have to worry about anyone drowning or anything because they're out there watching and doing their duty. I trust these kids; they’re good kids."