“I take care of my kids m*****..! Don’t tell me how to raise my boy!” the man yelled.
Veins bulged from his tatted neck, his hands were shaking, and a little spittle was running down the side of his mouth. A large group of men in their early 20s looked on seeing which way it was going to go.
It was right before dark on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. We were on Boddecker drive behind several rows of cars. Backup would take a long time to get to me if it was even available.
I held my hands out in front of me palms open. I tried to sound calm. “Look, no one is telling you how to take care of your kid. I’m sure you’re a great dad. It’s just that we’ve warned this group of people your with more than 10 times to stay out of the water in the ship channel and your 4 year old was out to his neck really near where that water runs out. Its deep there. We had 6 children drown there in one year a while back. All I’m saying is not to let him in the water from now on.”
The moment passed. He stayed mad but got himself in check. I got the feeling his kid wouldn’t go back in. I reminded myself what we tell the rookie guards. “You don’t have to win the argument. You just have to get them to comply.” Kind of like the key to a happy marriage is based on the question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”. I moved on to the next group and started with the same opener, “Hi! Has anyone been by to explain the rules and about how dangerous the water is yet?…”
The last thing my crew and I wanted to be doing as darkness fell last Sunday was going on foot to group after group explaining why they couldn’t keep going back in the water in the ship channel after we made announcements. We really wanted to drive away as night fell and hope for the best. But there were several hundred people that would be there well into the night, and many of them were… argumentative. Most of the groups had small children with them that they kept letting back in the water right after the announcements and directly in front of the bilingual, iconic no swimming/wading signs.
I’m convinced if the city hadn’t had the foresight to prohibit parking on the road and, instead to require them to park in designated areas that are a ways away from the most dangerous areas, we would have lost someone. I’m also sure if we hadn’t talked to each group directly last Sunday we’d be dealing with a drowning death, most likely of a small child.
Having the right system out there is vital. But sometimes good lifeguarding requires elbow grease and comes down to one on one communication.