Baltimore Aquatics Director: "We have a lot of training to do"

BALTIMORE - For some, it's just another summer job. But in Baltimore city, if you want to save lives, you have to go through the training. Each of the city's 127 lifeguards are certified through the American Red Cross.

"There are lots of jobs that a 15-, 16-, or 17-year-old could take," said Bill Kirkner, Aquatics Director for the Jewish Community Center and Red Cross Lifeguard Trainer. "For a summer, for a part time [job] or something like that. Almost none of them require the level of training and commitment and dedication and willingness to serve others that being a lifeguard or swimming instructor has."

Kirkner is a lifeguard trainer with the Red Cross. He also helped write the lifeguard training manual.

"We can pretty much guarantee at any pool during any summer, regardless of how safe they are, something really bad is going to happen. The trick is how you respond," he said.

The right response, he said, is keeping a close eye on all aspects of the water at all times.

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In Focus Investigators visited a handful of city pools over a two-day period this summer and caught some lifeguards breaking that important rule. Instead of intently scanning the water, some lifeguards were chatting, blowing whistles at each other, and even doing some sort of figurative dance. 

Investigators took their findings to Baltimore City Aquatics Director Darryl Sutton.

"If they were actually the lifeguards on duty, I would prefer that they actually sat there and observed more than they did," Sutton said in reference to two lifeguards doing a sort of dance move in the wading pool.

Sutton said when it comes to lifeguards chatting with one another, it really depends on how long it happens.

"What we encourage the kids to do is dismiss that individual who is there. Just say give me a second, I'm on duty here," he said.

Video shows a lifeguard doing cannonballs and diving off of the lifeguard platform during the pool's half hour health and safety inspection. Kirkner said diving from the lifeguard chair should never happen. (See photo)

"Yeah, that's definitely not something that should be taking place there. That's exactly what we try to prevent," Sutton said in response to the video.

Sutton stressed the importance of training, adding that every city lifeguard is certified. After seeing the video, he said, it's time to get back to the basics.

"Am I shocked that it happened? No. But what it does for me, it gives me a point from where we can start. And I can say to them, 'This is what the public sees,'" Sutton said.

The city's Aquatics Director plans to use ABC2's video as a point of reference for future training.

Sutton said in an ideal situation, these lifeguards would be monitoring the water at all times while on duty.

So far this year, the city has had four ambulance calls to pools, but no drownings.

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