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SRIA Looking For A Few Good Lifeguards

Escambia County

It pays $14.57 per hour, you get to sit in the sun, and you’re there to protect and, perhaps, save lives. Lifeguard tryouts for Pensacola Beach are set for this weekend.

“We’re counting down, we’re getting our equipment ready, and 3 weeks from Monday we’ll have the towers at Casino Beach,” said Dave Greenwood, Public Safety Director at Santa Rosa Island Authority.

He’ll greet applicants at the University of West Florida’s Aquatic Center Saturday morning at 11. .

“The first step to becoming a lifeguard out here is completing a 600-yard. swim in 10 minutes or less,” Greenwood said. “After the swim, there’s a 30-minute rest period and then the candidates is required to run a mile-and-a-half in 12 minutes. And then, we schedule the potential employee for an interview.”

SRIA has about 60 applicants currently signed up for Saturday, and will take as many as 80. After the tryouts, they’ll go through a human resources process – those hired will be county employees.

“Once they’re cleared with our Human Resources of Escambia County, They’ll come out and receive 80 hours of pre-service lifeguard instruction; we show them exactly the way our operation runs out here,” said Greenwood. “We provide them 40 hours of surf-rescue training, the 40 hours of medical training.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Dave Greenwood, Pensacola Beach Public Safety Director.

Starting late last year, returning lifeguards began undergoing a minimum of 16 hours of refresher training for 2021.

“We’ve had 54 lifeguards complete refresher training; the first weekend we did it was in December, and the four weekends of January we did returning training,” Greenwood said. “We have to be prepared; no longer can we wait until Memorial Day rolls around to start training people. We have to be on the beach in March.”

As one previous public safety director once told a lifeguard class, the Gulf of Mexico is not the country club or hotel pool. Greenwood concurs, saying it’s a beautiful environment to work in, but it can be challenging.

“And we have to continuously adapt to the surf out here because the surf dictates pretty much what we’re going to be going after that day,” Greenwood said. “However, you can never take your guard down, because even on seemingly calm days we’ve had to form some life-saving measures. So it’s a very challenging environment to work in, and it requires a lot of physical and mental stamina.”

When UWF began its women’s swimming and diving program — to offset football as per Title IX requirements —it opened up a treasure trove of future lifeguards, which Greenwood says continues to benefit beachgoers today.

“Several of our team members – almost 20 of them – have been Argo swimmers that came from that team; they’re just incredible team members,” Greenwood said. “Our core competency is water, and they’re phenomenal in the water and mentally they’re very cohesive. They learn quickly and they’ve just been really just almost a gold mine for employees.”

And when their stints in the towers come to an end, they move on to other walks of life.

“The first season of Argo swimming — the first swimmer we picked up — she’s now in her medical residency program; and that was seven years ago,” said Greenwood.

Minimum age to try out is 16, and American Red Cross Lifeguard Certification is preferred. More information on becoming a “Guardian of the Gulf” can be found by calling 850-503-1799, or emailing adjohnson@myescambia.com.