On guard: Lifeguards go through rigorous training at Nikiski pool

As the temperatures rise, and daylight extends into evening central Kenai Peninsula residents flock to their local aquatic facilities to enjoy some summer fun with family and friends.


In the summer months the Nikiski Pool’s lifeguard program doubles training courses to ensure swimmers in the 210,000-gallon basin remain safe and secure.

The basics

Of the 15 full-time and part-time Nikiski pool lifeguarding staff, each are American Red Cross certified, said Pool Supervisor Nigel Lariccia. The qualification process is rigorous, he said.

Candidates must first pass a Training Aquatic Professionals screening before they are even allowed to take the lifeguard training course, Lariccia said. He has trained lifeguards for more than a decade.

“Typically there is someone in each water class that can’t do it,” Lariccia said.

Swimming skills and endurance are tested through three evaluation activities, starting with swimming 300 yards continuously in a front crawl stroke and breaststroke, according to the program criteria. The applicant must also be able to dive up to 10 feet to retrieve a 10-pound object, and tread water for two minutes without using their hands.

Once approved, a 28-hour training course and job interview must be completed, according to the criteria. Finally each lifeguard must be CPR certified.

Nikiski High School student Micheal Hollinger said the position isn’t static. After three working as junior lifeguard, he is now qualified to work as a swim instructor.

“I love giving swim lessons,” Hollinger said. “Everyday is a good day.”

Maintaining skills 

“We have a tight knit group,” said Lariccia. “Usually everyone fits in just fine.”

In the summer, the entire staff is required to train together twice a month to ensure all medical response and swimming skills are up to regulation, Lariccia said.

If the staff isn’t running through drills, they are swimming laps or treading water. No one sits around during training sessions.

Strapped into an orange water rescue stretcher during a July training course, Chris Draomic waited patiently as his fellow lifeguard Greg Brown gently lowered him onto the tiled deck.

“Thank you for not dropping him,” Lariccia said. “That hurts so incredibly bad.”

LaRiccia then brought everyone back together to run through real life scenarios. He assigned two staff as lifeguards while the rest of the group headed to the opposite side of the pool and formed a huddle.

“Make it fun, don’t do anything completely insane,” Lariccia said. “You have to listen to the lifeguards.”

From there the group plays out a scenario where a swimmer suffers from a stroke while in the water. The pool was cleared and a water rescue was successfully performed.

A good job

“The job is more difficult than it appears,” Parra said “It can be exhausting. People don’t give lifeguards enough credit.”

Lariccia said it is not just standing and looking; each lifeguard is actively searching and scanning the pool for anything out of the ordinary.

A Nikiski pool lifeguard also learns cashiering, customer service and janitorial work, Parra said. The senior staff is also willing to work with people having trouble qualifying for the position, she said.

“Employers are very quick to hire Nikiski lifeguards,” Parra said.

Life after life guarding

Hollinger said the job he’s held for the last three years has taught him skills that will help him in his chosen professional field.

This fall Hollinger will be attending Montana State University in Bozeman to become a Physicians Assistant. He said emergency responses are usually to minor injuries such as scrapes and cuts, but the position has given him direct experience responding to medical issues.

Luke Johnson has been a lifeguard at the facility for three months now. He applied for the job because his brother had worked there previously.

“I didn’t look anywhere else,” Johnson said. “I knew it would be a good job.”

Johnson said he often receives advice from the more seasoned staff members. The job is going to help him save up for college in two years.

“It helps you develop life skills,” Johnson said. “It teaches you team building and leadership.

The next class for lifeguard training at the Nikiski Pool begins today. Contact Nigel Lariccia at 776-8800 for inquiries.


Kelly Sullivan can be reached at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.


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