PALATINE Ill. — They keep our kids safe in the water and rely on their training to kick in when they jump into action. Being a lifeguard comes with serious responsibility as three children die every day as a result of drowning. But there are countless rescues.
For a suburban teen new to the job, it’s a summer she’ll never forget.
Sunny Batra had a big save in a big pool. Fifty meters long and eight lanes across, the Olympic-size complex in northwest suburban Palatine is a summertime favorite. Each morning, there’s a steady flow of activities; lessons for the little ones, swim team practice for the bigger kids. But by afternoon, it’s all about leisure at Birchwood Pool.
Patrick Griffin is the Palatine Park District Aquatics Manager.
“It’s a 1000 capacity for bathers so we have about 1000 people that could attend this facility at one given time,” he said.
To keep the crowds safe, the 30 lifeguards on staff undergo intense training. Weekly drills keep their skills sharp even though, most of the time, all that’s needed is a helping hand.
“Our normal saves are somebody who just needs additional help, that they couldn’t get their footing down or just came off the diving board and just couldn’t get to the wall quick enough,” Griffin said. “More of an assist.”
After practice, they take their posts.
“The shifts are awesome,” Barta said. “We rotate every 15 minutes so we’re always watching different parts of the pool, making sure the pool is safe, making sure all the patrons are having an enjoyable time and staying safe at the pool.”
It’s Batra’s first year on the job.
“It is super fun,” she said. “The team I work with is amazing. Everyone here is so considerate of each other. We also meet a lot of fun kids. There’s always amazing kids at the pool.”
Barta, who is also a water polo player, was in the chair last week when she spotted one in trouble.
“There was a child who was not doing so well in the water,” she said. “She was choking on water. She was kind of young. So I jumped in and helped her out of the pool.”
It happened fast, but the 16-year-old’s training instantly kicked in.
“We do training very often,” she said. “We do CPR training every week and we also have in-services, so I knew exactly what to do in the situation.”
Out of the water and on deck, she worked to resuscitate the child. Sunny says it was a team effort.
“I did have to do CPR with the help of my managers Dylan Siepka and Eli Sherman,” Barta said. “Honestly while I was doing it, nothing was going through my head except for all the steps. But then right after I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, this just happened.’”
All the hard work, in and out of the water, paid off.
“Anything can happen on any type of a day,” Griffin said. “Always to get in that mindset, we are going to be making a rescue no matter what.”
“It’s something you’ll never forget,” Barta said. “It definitely changed me as a person and I think it changed all the lifeguards here, too, to realize, yes this does actually happen and we’re all taking it really seriously. (And) remembering pool safety is super important all the time.”
The young swimmer was taken to the hospital as a precaution. First responders called the lifeguards’ actions “a good rescue.”