WESTBROOK – At age 19, Morgan Maxwell is the longest-serving lifeguard at the Cornelia Warren Community Pool in Westbrook.

Maxwell, who is from Windham but attended Westbrook schools, will be a sophomore this fall at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. An avid swimmer during middle and high school, she began volunteer lifeguarding and assisting in swim lessons in eighth grade, and worked at the community pool throughout high school.

While she is studying marine biology with a minor in international business, Maxwell still dedicates her time between semesters in Westbrook lifeguarding at the pool. She says the job provides a fun but sometimes challenging atmosphere.

The Westbrook Community Center employs about 20 part-time lifeguards, with an average of four lifeguards on duty during the day.

Maxwell, who swam competitively for Westbrook schools, said that although Maine Maritime Academy does not have a swim team, she often swims laps.

She is the longest-serving lifeguard, working and volunteering for almost six years. The American Journal spoke with Maxwell this week about the community pool, the lifeguarding life and the challenges that come with operating a public pool.

Q: What inspired you to become a lifeguard? What is the process like for becoming certified?

A: Definitely my eighth-grade swim coach. He needed help with swim lessons and a few of his guards were graduating that year, so I learned the ropes and was soon teaching classes. To become a lifeguard you have to go through a lifeguarding course for certification. This is where you learn different types of saves for different types of situations, how to survey a scene safely and how to pick out struggling swimmers.

In this course you also learn CPR, first aid, and receive a certification for that, as well. At the end of the course there is a written test, and there is also a physical test where you need to save a drowning patron. All three are good for two years, and then you have to take a re-certification course and test.

Q: You’re currently the longest-serving lifeguard at the Warren Community Pool. What has kept you working in Westbrook?

A: Honestly, it’s a fun job. For the most part, I’ve grown up with the staff. Who wouldn’t want to work with their best friends? When I first started out I was the youngest kid, was going into high school, and many of them were upperclassmen, so it helped in school a lot. Almost all of us swam competitively, so we got to know each other outside of work, as well. We try to have fun a lot, when no one is there for pool patrons, all the staff might jump into the pool and have a cannonball contest off the diving board. It’s also a nice job to come home to on breaks. I can always pick up shifts.

Q: Take us through a typical day on the job. What are some common things you encounter?

A: If I’m the first to open the pool, I check the water level and check chemicals. I’ll open the doors and get our check-in station ready. As soon as the guards come in we set up ropes, chairs for the patrons, and get our guard stations ready. General swim starts at 1 p.m. and usually if it’s really hot, we already have a line of kids ready to go, so we start our day.

The guards switch on rotation every 15 minutes, that way they’re not standing in one spot all day, and it gives another set of eyes the chance to watch an area. We always have to deal with kids running on deck; that will never stop. We can never make everyone happy. Sometimes people get angry because the prices went up. Or they don’t want to pay if they’re just going to sit on the deck, or that they cannot bring anything other than water into the pool area, or the fact that the entire pool area is a smoke-free zone.

The worst is when parents realize their kids cannot use any type of flotation device (life jackets, water wings, etc.) because we have a problem with parents not paying attention once the child has a life jacket on.

Q: Have you noticed any changes in the community during your time at the pool?

A: Usage has definitely gone down. There used to be 120-150 kids at a time, every day at the pool. Now it’s a good day if we make over $100. (The fee for resident children is $1; $3.50 for adults.) The pool usually stays busy, but not like it used to. Once in a while we have one of those crazy days where we put seven to eight lifeguards out, and it’s nice because many of the guards on staff have never seen that many people here at once. It gives them good experience.

Q: Are there any regulars at the pool?

A: We have many regulars. They’re the ones that keep us in business. We have a man named Tom who has been coming to adult lap swim almost every day for many years.

Q: Do you have any interesting stories from your time at Warren? Have there been any serious accidents?

A: If you talk to any of the lifeguards, they would tell you almost every day is an interesting one. Older lifeguards definitely have a list of our favorite stories over the years. It doesn’t pertain to the pool, but I think one of my interesting stories would be the body found in the river last summer.

Police and EMTs were there all day creating quite an interesting day for all of us at the pool. We’ve also had a few people come to the pool intoxicated over the years. One time a man actually tried drinking a beer and lighting a cigarette while sitting in a chair on the pool deck.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of being a lifeguard?

A: I think the hardest thing is being ready for bad situation to happen. It’s easy to sit there in your bathing suit and just look at a pool all day. Its different when all of a sudden someone starts drowning, and it’s your turn to step it up. We’ve all been taught over and over what to do, but it’s different when it’s time to put all our knowledge to use. Every day that something doesn’t go wrong, the wage we make is pretty good money, but that one day that you have to jump in to save a life, I don’t think there really is any amount that is truly up to par with what we do. I think that is the same with any position that deals with saving people lives. They deserve so much more than we could ever give them.

Morgan Maxwell keeps her eyes on swimmers Tuesday at the Cornelia Warren Community Pool in Westbrook. “It’s a fun job,” she says. “For the most part, I’ve grown up with the staff.”  


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