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Lifeguards train to keep water park safe

The team performed more than 200 rescues last year

Posted: April 29, 2009 10:08 p.m.
Updated: April 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Lifeguard applicants practice CPR on one another during day one of a three-day screening process required for those interested in a job at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor.

Come Memorial Day weekend, a large team of lifeguards will be prepared to protect and serve as Six Flags Hurricane Harbor opens its floodgates to thousands of slippery-slide-craving park visitors.

Weeks before the park opens every year, hundreds of Hurricane Harbor lifeguard applicants must participate in a rigorous, three-day screening process. The park hires about 200 lifeguards for the season, most of whom are from Santa Clarita, said Hurricane Harbor Manager Roland Miller.

Staffing Supervisor Morgan Perdew, 23, led a group of trainees standing in a shallow pool through an emergency simulation on Saturday.

“You have a guest in distress laying face down, what’s the first thing you’re going to do?” Perdew asked the trainees as they held their “guests” in their arms.  

In unison, the trainees shouted, “Whistle, point, hit the ‘E’ (emergency) stop, jump in the water ... start swimming to the guest yelling ‘Hey, I’m a lifeguard, I’m here to help.’”

Trainees then practiced how to approach a nonbreathing guest and provide artificial respiration, calling out their steps — “breathe, breathe, breathe, one-one thousand, two-one thousand...” throughout the entire exercise.

“Because we are trained this way, we have it down. It becomes second nature,” said Perdew, referring to the vocally repetitive nature of the training.   

Perdew, who will be in her seventh season at the park, recalled an adrenaline-rush moment when lifeguards quickly responded to a young boy nearly drowning in a wave pool.

“It can be the most challenging job, but also the most rewarding, knowing that you can let a family spend another day with that person you rescued,” she said.

Lifeguards are separated into two groups: the special-facilities group and shallow-water lifeguards.

The special-facilities group, whose members supervise the deep-water wave pool, must prove they can swim 200 yards, retrieve a 10-pound brick from the bottom of the pool and bring it to the surface, and then tread water holding their hands above their head for one minute.

Shallow-water guards must swim 100 yards and retrieve a 10-pound brick at the bottom of a shallow pool, Miller said.

Each applicant also is tested individually for CPR on a child, an infant and an adult. They also must pass a written test, group-skills test and train to use an Automated External Defibrillator, which analyzes the heart’s rhythm, and if necessary, prompts the user to deliver a shock to the victim of sudden cardiac arrest.

One 20-year-old applicant said the training is intense, so the lifeguards are prepared if they are hired.

“You just have to practice to get it down,” she said.  “Everyone was very focused on the task, and professional.”

But luckily, Miller said park guards have never had to perform CPR in his 12 years of managing the park.

“Last year we performed 210 rescues throughout the season,” Miller said. “We have an extremely good safety record.”

But the guards can never be too prepared, and Miller said he reminds them that anything can happen.

“Someone with a pre-existing heart condition could go down right here,” he said. “It’s good to know these kids are prepared to handle something like that.”

Miller recalled an incident in which a woman passed out and stopped breathing near the Black Snake Summit.

“The guards were there within seconds,” he said. “We were complimented by the emergency rescuers who said that they (the guards) probably saved her life.”

Once the guards are hired, they are required to complete four hours a month of in-service training to review their training and refresh skills.

“Safety is our number-one, top priority,” said Six Flags Magic Mountain President Jay Thomas. “These lifeguards do a great job ensuring people of all makes and sizes are kept safe.”



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