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Marquette city lifeguards provide invaluable service

June 4, 2010
By ANDY NELSON-ZALESKI Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Marquette County experienced usually warm weather in recent weeks, with temperatures reaching into the upper 80s and lower 90s.

So what do you do on those extremely hot and humid days? One option is staying inside your home, assuming, of course, that it's air conditioned. Another might be hitting the mall, but that might entail additional expense.

Why not head to one of Marquette's beaches as the easiest and cheapest way to cool off is to take a swim in Lake Superior.

Article Photos

Lifeguard Gabby Emerick of Marquette scans the beach at McCarty's Cove in August 2009. LIfeguards will begin to be staffed at both McCarty's Cove and South Beach on Thursday. (Journal file photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)

The city of Marquette has 11 seasonal lifeguards who are on duty from noon to 8 p.m. every day, holidays included. The lifeguards are responsible for watching over hundreds of swimmers that frequent South Beach and McCarty's Cove.

Each of the lifeguards must possess, at a minimum, a lifeguard certification through the Red Cross, according to Jim Brooks, head lifeguard for the city of Marquette.

"We didn't hire anyone who didn't have less than a year of experience," Brooks said.

In addition to being Red Cross certified, a lifeguard candidate must go through a rigorous interview process.

"Other than the obvious oral interview component, each candidate has to pass a series of practical swim tests," Brooks said.

Some of the test practicals include a timed distance swim, a brick retrieval from the bottom of a pool, a brick carry, a number of mock rescues and an emergency scenario.

Brooks noted the scenario usually consists of a person in the pool acting like they are drowning.

"The lifeguard goes in to rescue the victim," he said. "Essentially, this shows us that they know exactly what they would do in an emergency situation."

Each of the beaches have at least two lifeguards on duty daily; South Beach has three guards for most of the busiest times of the day.

"We reduce the coverage to two guards at around dinner time because that's the time when patrons tend to go home," said Brooks, adding there are key safety concerns that swimmers should be aware of before entering Lake Superior.

"McCarty's Cove can be dangerous because of the higher waves and rocks," he said. "There is also quite a bit of a current that goes through the cove that people should be aware of."

This current - sometimes referred to as an undertow or rip current - has played a role in a number of drowning deaths at the site.

"The current can pull you down the beach and eventually out into the lake if you are really not paying attention," he said.

The other safety concern swimmers should be aware of is hypothermia.

"There are a lot of people who will go out and eventually their body will adjust to the temperature and (they) won't feel the cold and that is when hypothermia will set in," he said.

Brooks continued, "Our lifeguards have been trained to keep an eye on this but it is something we would rather prevent than have to treat.

"Beaches will be staffed and guarded come Thursday," he said.

Andy Nelson-Zaleski can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 256. His e-mail address is



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