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Course preps lifeguards for a new season

In the 1940s, being a life guard meant little more than slinging an arm over a distressed swimmer, dragging him or her to shore (or the deck) and basking in the praise of scantily clad onlookers of the opposite sex.

Not today.

These days, practicing lifeguards are drilled in current first-aid techniques, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated defibrillators, and that's only once they get a victim out of the water.

Albert Cahill has watched the profession change over the course of six decades.

As he celebrated his 79th birthday Wednesday, Jan. 31, he was eager to take on his next group of aspiring guards in one of his American Red Cross Lifeguard Training courses held at Shaker High School.

He has been an instructor since 1944.

Basically you had no CPR training. You would sit on their back, put your legs over their hips and it was in with the good air out with the bad, said Cahill. "Today a lifeguard is down to business."

Most lifeguards enter the field at age 15. Making their way through the more than 30 hours of courses and hands-on training, as well as the 500-yard required swim, is just the beginning. Many waterfront facilities and municipal pools require lifeguards to undergo annual or seasonal training to keep them up to speed with new techniques and dealing with the public, Cahill said.

It has become a highly professional job and requires professionally trained guards, even at age 15, he said.

"A lot of people think lifeguarding is sunshine, suntans and good parties. Today there is a lot more demand placed upon them," Cahill said.

There is no shortage of aspiring guards that make their way out every season to Cahill's courses, or others offered throughout the state, but there is a shortage of lifeguards statewide, he said.

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