Rec department explores lifeguard training

Thu, 09/30/2021 - 3:30pm

Recreation Director Dave Sniffen gave his end-of-season report to the Recreation Board, and discussed the staffing difficulties he had
over the summer.
“It was a tough year for staffing all the way around,” Sniffen told the board. He said he had started the season with seven lifeguards. “We lost two in July because they wanted to go on vacation before they started school. We lost another one because I caught her smoking pot at work. And one left us to go to a better-paying job in Misquamicut,” he said.

The two students leaving in July were most surprising for Sniffen. “I hadn’t experienced people wanting to leave early for vacation,” he said.
Only two lifeguards were left by the end of the season. Recreation Board Chair Gail Heinz asked Sniffen how many lifeguards he wanted to have on duty.
“Seven. We want five on duty every day. Three in the chairs, one on first aid duty, and one on break. Then we rotate them through,” he replied. His depleted staff was working overtime by the end of the season to cover the shifts and help keep the beach safe for swimmers, Sniffen relayed to the board.

Fred Benson Town Beach is generally safe, with Sniffen reporting only two water rescues in six years. Lifeguards on the beach might be bored, he hinted.
“Most of our calls are medical, cuts and jellyfish stings. It’s not like on Baywatch,” Sniffen explained. “You aren’t going to make 20 water saves and solve a drug ring problem on the beach.”

Despite the seemingly laid back atmosphere of lifeguard duty on Block Island, Sniffen still sometimes struggles to fully staff the big red chairs.

One solution he is considering is establishing a lifeguard training program for island youth. In the state of Rhode Island, people can become a certified lifeguard at 16.

Sniffen told the board that the town’s insurance company employed a Narragansett company, Life Safety Solutions, to evaluate the beach and lifeguard programs on the island this summer. Life Safety Solutions also provides lifeguard certification and expressed interest in coming out to the island in partnership with the Recreation Department to offer lifeguard classes.
“We can use Champlin’s pool,” Sniffen said. “It’s a good way to start a program and get some island kids into life-guarding.”

Sniffen told the board he thought free training and a job offer with the Rec Department would be a good incentive for local teens to get the certification.
“Hopefully in the spring we will be able to offer the training to our high school students,” he said.

Sniffen told the board he was creating a flier to put up at the school, to gauge the students’ interest, and he hoped the program could help to offset “the hiring problems for lifeguards and help to alleviate the housing issues.”
The Rec department had several local teens on the payroll already this year, renting beach chairs and umbrellas, and Sniffen said he hoped some of those kids would be interested in the lifeguard certification program as well.