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Running public pools a synchronized feat

Published: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:05 a.m. CDT
(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Lifeguards Emily Susmarski (left), 22, of Lake in the Hills and Jennifer Hartsel, 20, of Algonquin conduct a water test June 23 to make sure the pH and chlorine levels are where they need to be before the pool opens at Lions Armstrong Memorial Pool in Algonquin.

High temperatures and the summer sun generally mean people are heading to the community pool to cool off and splash around.

But making sure the gathering places operate smoothly during the summer requires a lot of teamwork, most of which goes unnoticed.

At the Algonquin pool, workers ensure the water’s pH level is between 7.2 and 7.6 for the 100 to 150 people who visit daily.

A pump house constantly filters the pool water, and it’s where a public works employee adds chlorine.

The water temperature is set at 68 degrees.

Gary Gitzke, a public works employee for Algonquin, helps maintain the 180,000-gallon pool. He checks and balances the water conditions in the pump house.

The pool has a miniature filtration plant as water from the pool goes through several strainers and filters before being circulated back into the pool.

“I come in here every morning,” Gitzke said. “I have to read these gauges to make sure they’re all where they’re supposed to be.”

Every day he writes down in a journal the chlorine levels, how many gallons were used, the pH levels and the flow of the tanks.

If levels are off, Gitzke has to make an adjustment, such as adding sodium bisulfite to lower the pH.

The number of people in the pool, whether there is rain, the temperature and wind blowing dust, pollen or dirt into the pool can affect the pH.

At the pools, the most visible employees are lifeguards or pool attendants. The seasonal workers range in age from 16 to 26 years old. In Algonquin, when lifeguards aren’t watching over the pool, they have other duties.

Melissa Christensen is the Algonquin pool manager. The Huntley resident and special education teacher at Woods Creek Elementary School in Crystal Lake oversees the 30 to 35 employees at the pool who serve as lifeguards, cashiers and cleaners.

They even regularly check pH and chlorine levels.

“It gives them a sense of responsibility,” Christensen said. “It’s a very important job, which we try to continually drill into them. They’re not just sitting in the sun.”

When they’re not scanning the pool from a lifeguard stand, workers are cleaning tables or bathrooms, selling snacks at the concession stand or preparing the pool by removing or adding lane separators.

Making sure everyone has fun while avoiding dangers or getting hurt is the pool operators’ main focus.

Cindy Witt, the recreation director for McHenry, said being a lifeguard at a city or park district pool is a great first job for teenagers at least 16 years old.

“Our No. 1 priority is safety,” said Witt, who added that the McHenry pool can attract 100 to 150 visitors a day.

In Algonquin, lifeguards have weekly training to keep lifesaving skills sharp. They practice CPR and first aid, putting someone on a backboard and getting a swimmer out of the pool.

Being prepared for an emergency is something all pool operators keep in mind.

At the Huntley Park District aquatic center, which averages about 250 people a day this year, there is training on how to deal with emergencies in the pool and on the deck.

“One might be responding with an [automated external defibrillator], one might be responding to a seizure in a pool,” said Debbie Kraus, the park district’s recreation director.

Kraus also said that every employee, whether it be concession staff or a pool attendant, has some sort of role when responding to an emergency. They even work with the fire department at the beginning of each season to discuss how to handle certain emergencies.

“It’s always a team effort,” Kraus said.

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