MILTON-FREEWATER - When it comes to saving a drowning victim's life, Lacey Carlson runs on instinct and eight years of experience.
"You don't think, it's reaction," Carlson said. "You see them, you go in. Once you pull them to the side, that's when you start thinking again."
Carlson, 23, is one of 21 lifeguards at Milton-Freewater's Joe Humbert Family Aquatic Center. As this summer heats up, Carlson and colleagues at the pool remain ever vigilant.
"Basically, we're here making sure everything is running smoothly and people are safe," said Kayla Wright, another veteran lifeguard at the pool.
Every lifeguard goes through a mandatory training that covers CPR, how to recognize drowning victims, lifesaving techniques and other important procedures. To maintain that level of expertise, lifeguards at the pool work on their skills regularly.
"We do in-services every week, so we have to swim laps and do practices to keep our training sharp," Carlson said.
That training is certainly important, especially with the number of patrons who go through the pool on a regular basis. According to Will Riley, another one of the lifeguards, "on a really good day, we'll have up to 400 people at this pool."
To handle that volume, lifeguards rotate through a number of positions around the pool for an hour and a half with a half-hour break.
"You're at a station every 15 minutes, so every 15 minutes, you have fresh eyes," Carlson said.
While the lifesaving component of lifeguard work is often the most emphasized part of the job, Carlson said it isn't a lifeguard's sole focus.
"They (the patrons) don't realize how much we do. We clean the bathrooms, we clean the pool. When there's an accident, we're the ones that take care of it."
Wright, 20, who has been a lifeguard for four years, said the variety of experiences has been valuable for her.
"It's where you learn all your people skills," she said. "You get thrown a little bit of everything, because people come from all walks of life."
When it comes to the pressures of working as a lifeguard, Carlson exudes calm determination.
"I get nervous sometimes, because the waves of people can be overwhelming at times, but you just focus," she said. "You're not only looking, but listening, too."
As Carlson explained, that focus is incredibly important, when it comes to spotting drowning victims.
"Lots of people don't even notice their own kids drowning," Carlson said.
Wright echoed that statement, saying that while lifeguards do a good job of keeping people safe, that responsibility must be shared.
"It's not just us who needs to look out for their child, the parents need to as well," she said.
When it comes to helping out, Carlson said parents can do it easily.
"Just keep an eye on your child," she said. "Know how your child swims."
Blair Hanley Frank can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8363.