4 things to know about 'beach attendants' in the N.W.T.

With summer on its way in the Northwest Territories, waterfront attendants will be patrolling two beaches in the territory in order to help prevent tragic accidents from happening, following the death of seven-year-old Lodune Shelley last summer.

Beaches in Yellowknife and Hay River will have 2 attendants on duty every day

Starting Monday, Long Lake beach in Yellowknife will have two beach attendants - trained in CPR, First Aid and shallow-water rescues - patrolling the waterfront. (CBC)

With summer on its way in the Northwest Territories, waterfront attendants will be patrolling two beaches in the territory starting this week, in order to help prevent tragic accidents from happening.

The move comes after people in Yellowknife urged the territorial government to hire lifeguards for Long Lake beach at Fred Henne Territorial Park. Last summer, seven-year-old Lodune Shelley drowned at the beach. 

But no one replied after the territorial government sent out a Request for Proposals for organizations to step up and help provide lifeguard services. 

So Dave Ramsay, minister of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, decided to hire beach attendants instead. They're waterfront workers that don't have the same training as lifeguards, but provide some form of security at both Long Lake beach in Yellowknife and Hay River Territorial Park beach.

But what can you expect from the 'beach attendants'? Here are four things you need to know.

Who they are

The territorial government hired 10 beach attendants in Yellowknife, all of whom are students. 

"We were looking for people who had some previous experience, possibly having their Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross, or Lifeguarding, and then three months of experience working for the public," said Chris Johnson, regional superintendent for the North Slave Region with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment. 

According to Johnson, the Lifesaving Society, the group that trained the beach attendants, says Yellowknife's group is one of the best it's ever dealt with. 

Johnson says some of the attendants were hired specifically as casual workers, so they can be called in whenever they're needed during peak hours. 

What they're trained to do

The new beach attendants are trained in CPR and First Aid, as well as shallow-water rescues up to 1.2 metres. In Yellowknife, that means the attendants are trained in rescues within the buoyed area.

But Johnson says the beach attendants' main focus is educating beach goers about safe-water practices and preventing tragedies from happening. 

Initially, the territorial government was looking to hire lifeguards for Long Lake beach, but didn't have any luck finding an organization that could offer the services. (CBC)
She says the beach attendants in Yellowknife are allowed to help with rescues beyond the buoys, but their first job is to encourage people not to go outside the area in the first place.

"So if someone does go outside the buoys, the beach attendants would inform them that there could be hazards outside the buoys that they haven't identified, and hopefully they'll come back in," Johnson said. 

There will be safety equipment at the beaches that the attendants are trained to use, and that is also available to the public. The equipment includes throwing rings, reaching poles and a throw bag, a bag attached to a rope that makes it easier to use a rope in rescue situations. 

There will also be free, loaner life jackets at Long Lake beach again this summer.

"We strongly encourage that non-swimmers or people who aren't confident in the water, they should be wearing a life jacket," Johnson said.

When they'll be there

There will be at least two attendants patrolling each beach in Yellowknife and Hay River every day, rain or shine.

At peak hours, there could be as many as three or four at the beaches, but Johnson says specific times for increased patrolling has yet to be determined. 

"Because this is the first year that we're doing this, we're going to have to look at the user numbers and see how many people are out at certain times," she said.

The attendants in Yellowknife are getting their final days of training Saturday and Sunday and will start work Monday. 

They'll patrol Long Lake beach from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. seven days a week until the weekend after Labour Day. 

In Hay River, the attendants will be there from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day, starting June 21.

Water safety tips

Even though the beach attendants will be there to monitor swimmers in the water, the territorial government says beach-goers' safety is still the responsibility of caretakers and parents.

Johnson says a "responsible caretaker" should be 16 years or older and not responsible for more than four people. 

She also says children seven years old and under should be within arms reach of their caretaker, and children aged eight to 11 should be "actively supervised."

Lodune Shelley, 7, died after drowning in Long Lake, which is part of the Fred Henne Territorial Park, last summer. (Facebook)
Johnson is also strongly encouraging people to avoid bringing inflatable toys to the beach, as they can make it harder for the beach attendants and caretakers to do their jobs.

"They can obstruct views of other people that are in the water, and … people can get caught under them," Johnson said. 

"People supervising children wouldn't be able to see if someone was caught under them. And they can also blow away and push someone out into the lake fairly quickly if there's a gust of wind."

Johnson says the Lifesaving Society may be offering its Water Smart education program to the public, so beach goers can make sure they know all the hazards involved with going to the beach. 

Yellowknifers involved with Lifeguards for Lodune, a group of volunteer lifeguards that formed last year following Lodune Shelley's drowning, are taking the course Saturday so they can help water-safety education. 

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