County lifeguards make a difference

Garrett Jones (right), Stone Singleton (second from right) and other Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission lifeguards line up for a Run, Swim, Run Race.

Erin Steffen has the perfect summer job. She is a beach lifeguard for the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.

“The typical day is long but an awesome day,” said Steffen, a junior at the College of Charleston. “It’s an amazing job. The people are so friendly, so welcoming. It’s a great group of people to work with.

“And you can’t beat being out on the beach all summer long. You feel like you’re wanted, like you’re doing something helpful for the community.”

Charleston County PRC has begun the process of hiring lifeguards for the coming swimming season at Folly Beach Pier, Isle of Palms County Park and Beachwalker Park at Kiawah Island as well as at three water park locations.

More than 250 lifeguards are expected to work during the coming season. Information on becoming a lifeguard can be found at, and if interested, you should hurry. In order to be considered for a position, participants must pass mandatory tests for swimming (500 meters in nine minutes or less) and running (one mile in eight minutes or less) by March 21.

The tests are done at St. Andrews Family Fitness Center in West Ashley 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and noon-2 p.m. Saturdays.

New lifeguards go through what is called a rookie school and then must complete surf school.

Stephen Fernandez, safety program assistant manager for Charleston County PRC, said beach lifeguards are on duty 10 a.m.-6 p.m. seven days a week from Memorial Day until Labor Day.

A typical day for a beach lifeguard, he said, begins with setting up safety equipment early in the morning, training 9-10 a.m., then working rotations 10 a.m.-6 p.m. before packing up the equipment.

In between rotations on the stand, lifeguards continue to go through training sessions.

“In our history, no one has drowned in our guarded swimming areas,” Fernandez said. “What our lifeguards encounter a lot is people getting caught in rip currents. Our big thing is prevention. We record preventative actions, we record swim assists and swim rescues.”

Preventive actions, Fernandez said, are any time a lifeguard blows the whistle for someone going in water that’s over chest deep or actions that may result in an injury.

He said lifeguards record thousands of such actions over the course of the swimming season.

Swim assists, such as accompanying a swimmer who has drifted too far out, are probably in the dozens, and lifeguards record maybe a dozen rescues over the season.

Fernandez said he has never had to do CPR.

“The most dramatic things I’ve been involved with are rip-current rescues, pier rescues where the water is really rough,” Fernandez said. “I know there are a handful of people out there that are living today that if I or other lifeguards didn’t get to that person when we did, they wouldn’t still be here. We made a difference getting out there.”

Likewise, Steffen said she has never been involved in a tragic scenario, but she knows she is prepared. She’s had to “save” her supervisor twice as part of unannounced testing and observations. And that’s fine with her.