An application comes across your desk for a staff member who has been a lifeguard at a community pool for the past two summers. Enclosed with the application are photocopies of her certifications, which include American Red Cross Lifeguard Training; American Red Cross First Aid Training; and American Heart Association Community CPR, AED, and O2 certification. WOW! This looks great — a staff applicant with all the certifications to work at the pool and on the waterfront.
As if hiring staff wasn't challenging enough — interpreting the standards and the certifications required for waterfront and aquatics staff adds another dimension that you need to consider as you wade through applications. As the staff recruiter, do you know what to look for and what to ask when hiring aquatics staff? Do you just look to see if the person is certified, make the decision to hire, and worry about it later? What certifications are required for swimming, canoeing, waterskiing, windsurfing, SCUBA, and sailing? Will a lifeguard certification be enough or is a different set of skills or certification required?
When identifying staff for your aquatic environment keep these things in mind:
What certifications fit for each particular aquatic area? Will a lifeguard suffice for your waterfront director or sailing instructor — or is there more to it than that?
ACA has a set of standards which applies specifically to aquatics. Which of the following aquatics staff positions apply to your waterfront?
The Instructional Swimming (as opposed to recreational swimming) ACA standard PA-19 requires a swim instructor certification from a nationally recognized certifying body and a lifeguard or lookout needs to be out of the water continuously watching over the activity if the instructor is in the water. If you are hiring staff for swimming, make sure you also have certified lifeguards available during instructional time.
Instructional Boating Staff
Most aquatic certifications are valid for a period from one to three years, depending on the certification and the sponsoring body. On the application form or in the interview, ask the applicants when their certification expires and request to see a photocopy of those certifications. If at all possible, they should bring their actual cards or certificates to camp with them.
If lifeguard training is comprised of not only the water rescue skills but also CPR and first aid, it is good practice to make sure your staff have all the appropriate certifications for which they were trained. Common sense would tell the camp director that if a lifeguard is trained in first aid and CPR as part of his or her coursework, and theoretically would be the first to respond to an incident or accident on the water, he or she should hold current certifications in all the skills areas in which he or she was trained.
How do you know that the certification your staff member possesses is authentic or that the staff member has the skills the certifications imply? According to Will Evans of Markel Insurance, some camps have run across false certification cards. So how can you be sure that your staff has actual training in the certification they hold? You verify their skills upon arrival at camp and before they begin working with your campers. ACA Standards PA-15 and PA-20 require that the staff have documented skills and training in water rescue and emergency procedures specific to the location and activities. If your staff were trained in a pool (most lifeguards are) and you have a lakefront, the staff need to have participated in specific training in a lake environment.
What to Do about Noncertified Applicants?
Don't hedge your bets and wait for certification approval before deciding on an applicant. The process can sometimes take weeks or even months — depending on the response from the sponsoring agency and review committee. If you have an applicant who is a strong candidate for your aquatic and waterfront environment — with the skills and experience required but no certification — it's not unusual to consider enrolling the applicant in a certification course after hiring and before camp starts.
Recognize that just because a staff member is certified does not guarantee competency in and on the water. Precamp verification and in-service training are crucial to keep your waterfront staff on their toes and practicing their skills. More information on this will follow in the May/June issue of Camping Magazine — "Building Blocks to In-service Aquatic Training."
The waterfront is one of the highest risk areas in camp. Hiring diligent, certified, and competent aquatics staff is the first step in providing the safest aquatics environment possible.
Cathy Scheder is currently the manager of learning resources for the American Camping Association (ACA). She has worked in camping for fifteen years, aquatics for seventeen years, is an ARC Lifeguard, and is the aquatics resource staff person at the ACA national office.
Originally published in the 2004 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.