COLUMBIA CITY — For many teenagers, summer break means relaxation, spending time with friends and avoiding spending any time near the high school.
That’s not the case for about 20 Whitley County teenagers, who are working long days at the new Russel & Evelyn Fahl Aquatics Center, located next door to Columbia City High School.
The staff of 21 lifeguards at the pool consists mostly of teenagers, many around age 16. With crowds of about 400 people at a time during busy periods, it’s a big responsibility that the guards have taken on gracefully, management says.
“I am incredibly impressed by them,” said Manager Jacob Johnson. “Their maturity and the way they carry themselves and handle themselves is incredible.”
When the pool first opened, most of the guards were practically untested — especially with the 1,000 visitors the pool saw on opening day July 7.
“We were nervous because they were young and there weren’t very many of them, but they have stepped up,” Johnson said.
Phil Stanczak is the assistant manager of the pool and primarily works with the lifeguards. There are at least eight lifeguards, sometimes as many as 12, on duty at a time during the pool’s public hours, noon-7 p.m. daily.
The guards rotate to different areas of the facility every 15 minutes to help them stay fresh, especially when the pool is more crowded. Additionally, at the last 10 minutes of every hour, all visitors are asked to get out of the pool for a break.
Stanczak used to be the manager of Burnworth Pool, and said that lifeguard duties at the two facilities do not compare.
“It is 100 times more busy than it used to be,” Stanczak said.
Not only is the new pool drawing a bigger crowd, but its special amenities, such as the pool, vortex and splash area, call for more safety precautions. So how do the lifeguards keep so many families safe on busy days? — communication. The guards all have walkie talkies and can receive instant feedback from Stanczak.
“They deserve the credit. To have the ability to go out for eight hours as a kid and do such a good job has been amazing,” Stanczak said.
Especially in areas designed for younger children, such as toddlers, lifeguards have to especially be on the lookout for potential danger.
“There are so many kids in there,” Stanczak said.
Because of the new, fun amenities, such as the zero-entry area, the pool is drawing a crowd of toddlers and younger children compared with Burnworth Pool. Especially due to this, there are rules in place that some visitors may not be aware of. For example, there are places on the wall that people should not sit, there is a height and weight requirement for the slides, and individuals cannot hang on to the walls in the vortex area.
Stanczak said most visitors have been understanding of the rules; it just takes time for everyone to learn them. It can be especially difficult for younger lifeguards to have to blow their whistles at older adults who aren’t following the pool rules.
If someone does have a question about the rules, it is best to speak to a manager versus contesting the rule with a lifeguard, who needs to focus on the water.
“Every rule we have is in place for safety reasons,” Stanczak said.
The facility could use another 10 lifeguards next summer.
“These kids are working a lot of hours right now,” Stanczak said.
Though working a lot of hours, they still choose to spend time together outside of the pool. For example, a group of them went to the 4-H Fair to watch a fellow guard show an animal.
“It’s like a team,” Johnson said. “Them getting along so well helps when they’re out here [at the pool]. They have each other’s backs.”
There have not been any major swimming-related incidents at the pool so far, but one visitor had a seizure while at the facility.
“Two 15-year-old guards were right there doing everything they were supposed to do,” Johnson said. “They way they handled it and the composure they had — we’re blessed with this group we have.”