Columbus knows them for carrying around whistles and wearing their red bathing suits, but the teens who make up the Pawnee Plunge’s lifeguard collective don’t take it lightly. Like “Spider-Man,” they know great power comes with great responsibility.
These teens have to be physically and mentally sharp at all times, going through the proper channels to earn American Red Cross certification that includes swimming 300 yards continuously using various strokes, First Aid, CPR/AED and more.
The City of Columbus actually offers the American Red Cross training at a minimal cost to the teens, who must be age 15, to help support them. City Aquatics Supervisor Joe Krepel said the teens who serve as lifeguards are often entering the workforce for the first time. He views his job of overseeing more than 70 lifeguards and 120 staff members in total as an opportunity to prepare them for the future.
“My passion is kids. I love the pools, because there’s always something exciting happening. But to me, it’s about the development of the staff,” Krepel said, noting all lifeguards have to know to swim before they’re hired and can work a variety of shifts at the Plunge and Aquatic Center.
“For a lot of people, this is their first job. This is their first opportunity to be working. I’m their first boss, so I get to help them understand what a good boss is, how they should be treated, the importance of going to work on time and what a good work ethic means.”
On a June 2023 afternoon, the Pawnee Plunge was packed with people enjoying the cool water, slides and other attractions. A lifeguard supervisor, 20-year-old Hannah Benne was walking around the facility checking in on her many lifeguards who were staying alert watching community members enjoy all the Plunge has to offer.
The lifeguards are required to rotate around to different stations every 15 minutes and have to take a 30-minute break after two hours on duty. It’s part of a proactive approach to make sure nobody gets stagnant and misses something.
“Nobody is sitting around in the same spot all day long. It’s important we all stay fresh,” said Benne, who is in her sixth year as a lifeguard for the City. “It’s a serious job. You’re putting a serious responsibility on a 15-year-old when they start. It can happen in two seconds when a kid slips under the water. So, we always have to be paying attention … We have to take this job seriously and do a lot of training.”
Veteran lifeguard team members Jailyn Jaeger, 20; Kenzy Beiermann, 17; and Ashlee Seim, 18; were among the many on hand that June 2023 afternoon. They all said they enjoyed being outside, making relationships with their colleagues and the community.
Benne, who is going to be a junior at Wayne State College and is studying psychology, said being a City lifeguard has been an extremely rewarding experience. Of course, there’s a seriousness to the job. But, she added, it’s also very enjoyable.
“I love the atmosphere. Being around the kids, being around all of the other lifeguards. It’s just fun,” Benne said. “We have a lot of fun here. And it’s always good seeing everyone’s faces and everyone enjoying summer.”
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: Hannah Benne, left, a City of Columbus lifeguard supervisor, talks with Lifeguard Jackson Heng while watching over patrons at the Pawnee Plunge on a June 2023 afternoon.)