By Kathryn Sesser-Dorné
Special to The Times
It’s never too early to learn how to swim.
At least that’s the message James Molette, 26, head lifeguard at Birmingham’s Underwood Pool wants to share.
“We’ve had infants come and take swim lessons. The rule here is we’ll take any age,” Molette said this week during a break between American Red Cross swim lessons and free swim at the pool he helps manage. “If the child can stand up, they can get in the pool by themselves. If there’s a toddler or infant, the parent will just have to get in with them.”
It’s never too late to acquire this life-saving skill either.
“The oldest person wasn’t here at this pool, it was at Memorial where I used to work, and I believe she was 73,” he said. “She actually learned how to swim.”
The American Red Cross created the first national water safety program in the U.S. – and today it’s still the gold standard for aquatics training. For the past 100 years, the Red Cross has been helping millions of kids, teens and adults learn how to swim and become lifeguards and instructors. The organization has helped to reduce accidental drownings by nearly 90% nationwide.
“Judging from session one, we have had over 150 participating in swim lessons,” Molette said, reflecting on the summer. “Each session, we have over 30 people, and if you include camps, that would be more than 200 so far.”
The last two-week session for the 2016 season began Tuesday at Underwood Pool, but the facility is open through July 29 this summer. Tuesday through Friday you can find a mixture of camps, swim lessons and open swim each day. The pool then opens for free swim from noon to 6 p.m. The cost is just $1 a day, and there’s always a lifeguard on duty. Anyone in Birmingham is free to come to the pool.
“On an average day, we have anywhere from 75 to 125 [people swim],” Molette said. “We actually have family swim that’s offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and that’s free if you bring a family member with you. From 6 to 7 [p.m.] You’re free to just swim laps or relax or exercise in the water.”
The pleasure of being able to spend time in the water is important. A swim in the pool on a hot summer day can help you feel relaxed and keep you physically fit, providing you an opportunity to exercise. These activities are difficult to enjoy without the knowledge of swimming.
While the sessions may be over at Underwood, the East Pinson Valley Pool, the newest and only indoor pool in the Birmingham system, is open year-round. The facility will continue to offer swim lessons after the summer’s end. You can call the pool’s office at 297-8178 to get updated information.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,400 people drown in the United States every year. If the thought of becoming a lifeguard interests you, the American Red Cross has you covered there as well.
“This is actually my 10th year,” as a Birmingham city lifeguard, Molette said. “I was on my neighborhood swim team in East Lake, and I was always interested in what the lifeguards were doing. I always wondered ‘How would you save someone if you had to jump in?’ So, curiosity took over and I started asking how I could sign up for it. I signed up, and I’ve been working every summer since.”
Molette worked at Memorial Pool for eight years, and it’s his second year as head lifeguard at Underwood Pool. “Right now I have five lifeguards and two attendants,” he said. The part-time positions are available from May to August.
“We have classes mainly offered during spring break, and they usually operate off the Birmingham city schedule. So whenever Birmingham has spring break, that’s when they have the class,” Molette said. “Basically, they teach you rescue skills, CPR, they make sure you are a strong swimmer and teach you additional strokes. Most people who take the class mainly only know how to do the freestyle, but once you take the class with them, they teach you breaststroke and sidestroke. The class generally lasts a week.”
The average lifeguard is usually in high school or college, but it’s open to any age. There is a minimum age requirement of 15, and prospective lifeguards must complete a rigorous test before they are accredited. (For more on becoming a lifeguard, please see the information box on this page.)
“All of our pool rules, equipment, everything comes from the Red Cross,” Molette said. “They train our supervisors and then our supervisors train us. We have paperwork we turn into the Red Cross so they know who has completed classes.”
Originally from Birmingham, Molette is a 2008 graduate of Carver High School, and a graduate of Jacksonville State University. He has spent the last couple of years working with Anniston City Schools as a sixth-grade language arts teacher as he works towards his masters’ degree at JSU. He plans to eventually return to Birmingham full-time.
And you’ll continue to catch him in the lifeguard chair at one of the city pools.
A LOOK AT BIRMINGHAM CITY POOLS
1021 26th Street South
P: 930-0821 or 933-8645
East Pinson Valley
3099 Jefferson State Pkwy.
P: 297-8178 or 297-8179
(The East Pinson Valley Pool is open year-round and will continue to offer swim lessons after the summer’s end. Lessons are $10 for eight sessions, and you can call the pool’s office to get updated information.)
524 6th Street S.
P: 252-0135 or 251-1237
Pool office: 254-6371
Most city pools close for season on August 7
Pool admission is $1
Pool hours are noon – 6 p.m.
Swim lessons at most facilities are $5 per two-week session. Please call the pool nearest you for additional information.
All lifeguards are certified by the American Red Cross.
RED CROSS WATER SAFETY
The Red Cross’ six-level Learn-to-Swim program is unlike anything offered by other programs. The program is designed for children over 6 months, all the way up to adults. The students progress at their own pace, mastering skills in one level before advancing to the next. Each level of the Learn-to-Swim class includes training in basic water safety, in addition to stroke development. Courses typically meet for 8-10 sessions of 30-45 minutes each.
Provides entry-level participants the knowledge and skills to prevent, recognize and respond to aquatic emergencies and to provide care for breathing and cardiac emergencies, injuries and sudden illnesses until EMS personnel take over.
Minimum age: 15 years
Must be able to swim 300 yards continuously
Must be able to tread water for two minutes using only the legs
You must complete a timed even within 1 minute, 40 seconds:
- Starting in the water, swim 20 yards
- Surface dive to a depth of 7 to 10 feet to retrieve a 10-pound object
- Return to the surface and swim 20 yards on the back to return to the starting point
- Exit the water without using a ladder or steps