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Tracy Frank, Published July 04 2011

It's My Job: Vigilance, quick response key to lifeguarding

FARGO - Ryan Mac Master is at home in the water.

He’s been swimming since he was 3 or 4 years old and has been a lifeguard since he was 15.

The 23-year-old has competed in 25 to 30 triathlons, and he swims 2.1 miles across Lake Superior for fun.

So his job seems perfect for him.

Mac Master is the pool manager, lifeguard and swimming instructor for the Fargo Park District at Fargo’s Southwest Recreational Pool at 18th Street and 15th Avenue South.

“I love swimming; I love the aquatic environment. Everything about it is fun,” he said. “It’s a very serious environment. At the same time, it’s a lot of fun.”

Q: How did you get to be the pool manager?

A: I was a supervisor for the Detroit Lakes lifeguards from many years back. I’m also a coordinator with YMCA in the winter. I do safety trainings, CPR instruction; I teach lifeguards. I also do that for the park district.

So this is just a summertime job, right?

This job is mostly summertime. We do have winter guarding on the weekends, and we do have spring swimming lessons in the off season, so there is year-round stuff that happens with the park district. I do manage the indoor winter programs also.

I started pool managing in 2009 at this pool, which was actually my first year working here.

What is involved with your job?

I have about 33 staff on board that I oversee. I have an assistant manager that also does some of the duties.

Basically, maintaining daily operations, scheduling, reports. I take care of any accidents that happen, filling out the proper paperwork. I do hop in and do lifeguarding. I do teach one swimming lesson usually. So, I kind of do a little bit of everything. I oversee swimming lesson programs, making sure everything is being taught.

I oversee cashiers, making sure the money-handling is going the way it needs to be.

Do you have many accidents?

Not very often. There have been some severe accidents, every facility has that, but most of our daily stuff is just cuts and nicks. We have to do simple rescues where kids go a little too deep and we have to pull them out. That happens on a frequent basis. It’s just the design of a zero-depth pool. All zero-depth pools have simple rescues like that where a kid just takes one step too deep and can’t get back to where he can touch.

Vigilance is big. Most of our stuff happens in the same spots, so our lifeguards are very aware of what to look for.

The biggest thing is catching those small rescues because it takes only 30 seconds for a child or adult to go unconscious once they start the active drowning response. I like my guards to catch it within 10 seconds because if you catch it within 10 seconds, they probably won’t have swallowed water yet.

We have a really good crew here. All of the rescues that we’ve had, we’ve gotten well under 30 seconds.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

As a lifeguard, the hardest part is staying focused sometimes when it’s extremely hot. We’ll have at least 500 kids in the pool, so just trying to make sure you’re watching everybody and you’re staying vigilant the whole time. We rotate every 15 minutes to a different spot. On a busy day when we’re at capacity, we’ll have 10 lifeguards watching the pool at once with one of them being an in-water lifeguard.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” email businessnews@forumcomm.com