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“Lifeguarding isn’t just an activity. It’s a qualification.”

Stephané Rebeck McCormick has been a lifeguard since 1985. A native of New Jersey, worked a swim instructor with the YWCA of Princeton and as an oceanfront lifeguard with the Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol on Long Beach Island. As Aquatic Program Manager for Clayton Parks & Recreation, she set regional enrollment records and earned her department the prestigious Best in Aquatics award from Aquatics International. She is a 2007 American Red Cross Community Lifesaver and a 2012 graduate of the United States Lifesaving Association Surf Rescue Training Officer Academy.

Backyard Lifeguards is a portable professional water safety service, providing contract aquatic supervision and rescue services to private locations and special events. The company also offers customized evaluations of event locations and on-site safety training.

Backyard Lifeguards

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some of the most over looked issues when it comes to swim safety?

Stephé: Often, people presume a situation is safe based on just one element of swim safety. But comprehensive aquatic safety requires LAYERS of protection, the most important being competent supervision. Individually, things like swimming ability and adult supervision are not enough to ensure total protection. For example, children (especially adolescents and teens) tend toward more risk-taking behavior, so even ones that how to swim still need to be supervised. Little kids’ capabilities change every day, so in addition to swim instruction and supervision, there should be barriers like fences and alarms to prevent their unattended access to water. Race organizers often assume that adults registering for multi-sport events are adept at each of the disciplines, but we see many in the swim portion that are so obviously unprepared, or anxious, and that is not a good combination. For all the above, the supervision should be skilled and focused. Many people think they’re watching the water, when really they’re distracted or socializing, The occasional glace toward the pool is not enough. And an event volunteer in a kayak is not necessarily trained to recognize or respond to swimming distress. Lifeguarding isn’t just an activity. It’s a qualification.

BusinessInterviews.com: What’s one marketing strategy that’s worked well for you?

Stephé: People ask me that all the time. I would say it’s the quality of the experience our customers have, and that gets around by word of mouth. We don’t do “direct mail”, but each customer gets a personal thank-you note following their engagement, and we send hundreds of holiday cards. We also engage with our community, set up booths at safety fairs and camp expos, and conduct free safety presentations at preschools. We’ve even reached out to pediatricians. Despite owning my own business, I still see myself as an educator. For us, it’s not just about promoting our company; it’s about educating people so they make conscientious choices and learn how to prevent drowning. It is the second leading cause of death among children, and totally preventable.

BusinessInterviews.com: What inspired you to establish the BYLG Sport division in 2012 and create a line of service specifically for non-pool events?

Stephé: Demand, mostly. A colleague suggested it to me when we first opened, but I was concerned at the time that lifeguards in this region were trained primarily for pools, and open-water rescue requires an additional skill set. But triathlon has swelled, both in number of participants and number of events. That has spurred the growth of open-water practice swims. As well, adventure races like Muckfest MS and Tough Mudder have water obstacles. When the requests for lifeguards and other pre-event consultation for these special events kept coming, we created a training plan for lifeguards that includes the supervision strategies, rescue skills, swim speed and stamina, and watercraft operation required to meet the needs of large groups in open-water. We’ve been able to adapt a lot of pool lifeguards to work in natural sites, and recruit some triathletes and EMTs directly. Once we felt we could serve those events properly, we took on more, and now that division is performing well.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share a bit about the development process behind your new Lifeguard-In-Training program that you’re planning to launch this summer?

Stephé: It was born of BYLG Sport. St. Louis has a rich swimming history, and is home to many elite swim teams with lots of young talent. Parents are always looking for unique experiences that will empower their children, especially tweens and teens. There are great opportunities in lifeguarding. It teaches personal responsibility, good health and fitness, leadership, and lots of other life skills, all of which we need at BYLG. How nice it would be if upcoming lifeguards were actually looking for diverse work as they are seeking job training. So we aim to build a water rescue culture among young people, so they will consider not only pools, but all kinds of water sites that can benefit from their skills.

Our fantastic summer intern spent a lot of time writing the LIT curriculum so it would provide fun and engaging exposure to the kinds of duties at lifeguarding job sites—pools of all sizes and lakes and oceans, too. We also offer post-program volunteer work, which so many young people are seeking now. I hope that many participants will lead their peers to make safe choices around water. And of course, will eventually become lifeguards. With labor statistics showing so many US teens un- and under-employed, having special skills can help. Maybe the growing readiness to serve natural sites will lead to more lifeguards posted in state and county parks, where drownings occur annually.

BusinessInterviews.com: Why do you think that are so few companies or individuals that provide water safety services to residential pools? Do you anticipate that trend to change in the coming years?

Stephé: I hope so. I know of only three other companies like BYLG, all located in coastal states: New Jersey, Florida, and California. There is a lot of water in the 3,000 miles between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. As people get safety messages from the governing bodies of swimming and triathlon, as well as the American Red Cross, YMCA, and USLA, it would be nice if the services increasingly sought were actually available and accessible. (Many municipalities, schools, and non-profit agencies can’t meet this need due to a variety of legal reasons.) There are markets similar to St. Louis in climate, activity, and demographic makeup whose citizens would benefit from the availability of contract water safety services. Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, and New Orleans come to mind.

As to whether change will come, I don’t know. Offering this professional service is not easy. Lots of people riskily attempt it without industry-standard equipment or insurance, both of which are quite expensive, making the cost for contract lifeguard services higher than what some consumers expect to pay. Many inland residents associate lifeguards with low-paid youth, like babysitters, or consider just the personnel and not the many other items that contribute to the overhead costs of delivering that trained, insured, and fully equipped lifeguard to an event site. So any service provider should prepare to be community educator, contract negotiator, lifeguard trainer, and safety advocate all in one.

BusinessInterviews.com: If you had to start all over again, is there anything that you would do differently?

Stephé: Of course. I threw a lot of pasta at the wall to see what would stick. We still offer things like party packages and backyard swim camp and scout merit-badge programs, but lifeguarding is what our customers request most. I see every call as an opportunity to help someone, and I’m just so thrilled when people are conscientious enough about water safety to make that call. But I need to resist the temptation to be everything to everyone. Sometimes, people want things that other agencies are better suited to provide. Or, they want a version of safety that isn’t really safe, and so not in our best interest to accommodate. I often wish I’d found my focus (and our niche) earlier.

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