By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
To be ready for the summer, the Parks and Recreation Dept. got an early start. Its Municipal Lifeguard Training Program helped 350 fresh-faced teens qualify as state-certified City Lifeguards represented by DC 37 Local 461.
To meet the job’s demanding qualifications, the recruits attended weeks of rescue classes and workout sessions after school to ace the written exam and swim test at Manhattan’s Chelsea Pool April 17.
“The training is grueling but these kids have proven themselves to be the best of the best—strong competitive swimmers who are eager to work hard to keep the public safe,” said veteran Lifeguard Supervisor Javier Rodriguez of Local 508, one of the test administrators.
“These first responders have a tremendous responsibility beyond their years,” said Local 508 President Peter Stein. “Most kids’ first jobs are in fast food or at the mall. These young people have the daunting task of safeguarding human life.”
It is a challenge welcomed by 18-year old Elias Reynoso.
“Being a lifeguard is an opportunity to save lives. This job brings me closer to my goal to be a registered nurse. It’s all about helping people,” said Reynoso, a Cardinal Hayes High School student.
To their credit, City Lifeguards in Local 461 and their Supervisors in Local 508 have achieved an outstanding public safety record as they start the fourth consecutive summer season with not one drowning or fatality.
To qualify as a Parks Dept. Lifeguard at city beaches, candidates must swim 440 yards in 6 minutes, 40 seconds or less. Additionally, beach Lifeguards must pass a 300-yard ocean swim test. Swimmers whose times are under 7 minutes, 40 seconds are assigned to public pools.
Lifeguard trainees are at least 16 years old with good eyesight. They are trained to perform First Aid, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and other rescue skills to save a swimmer in distress.
The unofficial start of summer is Memorial Day weekend when public beaches open and the Parks Dept. stations hundreds of certified City Lifeguards at its 14 miles of shores to protect millions of New Yorkers and tourists—swimmers, surfers and sun-worshippers.
he agency’s 56 outdoor pools open June 29. The Parks Dept. prohibits swimming when no Lifeguard is on duty.
“This is a job I’ve wanted all my life,” said Korey Soomai, a student at New York Harbor School on Governor’s Island. He hopes to join the U.S. Coast Guard one day.
City Lifeguards help build the community and save lives. Their earnings pay for college and in some instances help support their families.
“Becoming a Lifeguard will mean the world for me,” said Yahirobie Roman, 16, who swims for Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Queens. “I’ve trained really hard, especially in long distance swimming.”
“For many, this is their first experience as a unionized worker,” said Stein. “We promote the importance of belonging to a union and standing together to protect our benefits and rights which are so vital today.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of the Public Employee Press.
The DC 37 Blog is an online publication of DC 37, AFSCME, a union that represents 125,000 municipal workers in New York City.