By Ed Brock
Sam Davis spends his summers saving lives. About five to six a season, actually.
Davis, 20, of Jonesboro is one of the lifeguards who diligently watches over those at The Beach water park in the Clayton County International Park for summer fun. With hundreds of visitors coming to the park on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Davis has plenty of opportunity to put to use his natural talent as a swimmer.
"I was a water-baby when I was little. I could swim before I could walk," Davis said.
This summer season marks Davis' fourth year working at The Beach, where he was recruited by a friend who had worked there previously. Davis is now a supervisor of more junior lifeguards.
"I like the respect that comes with the job I have now," Davis said.
Like other lifeguards, Davis underwent three days of training covering the essentials of water safety, CPR and the "10-20-scan." Since an average drowning occurs in 30 seconds, a lifeguard has 10 seconds to spot the victim before they go underwater and 20 seconds reach them, said Davis' boss Trey Elder, beach manager.
Most struggles from swimmers at the beach happen in the deep end of the spring-fed lake that is the centerpiece of the park.
"There's a drop off out there," Elder said. "You get a foot away from the trampoline (that floats in the center of the lake) and it becomes 10 feet."
Children aren't the only ones who can get in trouble in the water. Davis said he's pulled adults to shore as well.
"A lot of time with adults they get tired really fast," Davis said.
Each lifeguard carries a whistle that is their primary form of communication with colleagues. Three bursts is a call for a supervisor, and a long-sustained blast is an emergency call.
About once a weekend a child will get lost and all of the supervisors will get together to find them. Beach-goer Ann Payne, 40, of Stockbridge said she was there with her family when a little boy got lost.
"They cleared everybody out of the water and went through in a line with a net," said Payne.
Children under 12 are supposed to be supervised by somebody who is 16 or older, but Elder said a lot of times people will think the lifeguards are baby sitters.
"In reality we're there to maintain safety," Elder said.
There are currently 67 lifeguards on duty at The Beach, but the facility will add more to get up to their usual staffing of 80, Elder said. The average age of the lifeguards is 17 and Davis, who says he makes $8.78 an hour (the usual starting wage is $7.21), said it worth the money they get paid.
"I really, really enjoy it," Davis said. "I wouldn't trade this job in for anything."
A 2003 graduate of Jonesboro High School, Davis is a student at Gordon College and likes to go out on the lake, fishing and wake boarding. He hasn't declared his major at college but doesn't plan to make lifeguarding a career.
However, Davis said he'll probably stick with it until he finishes school.