As soon as the lake is warm enough, and probably before, the cannonballs begin. From atop their raised thrones, Seattle Parks lifeguards are the final line of defense on our crisp, scenic, but potentially deadly bodies of water. Teenaged Case Berrysmith wasn’t even old enough to drive when he took the entrance test for a city lifeguard course. Even after certification, the prospect of overseeing a life-or-death situation was so intimidating he put off getting an actual job for a year. At this point, the 14-year veteran and manager for Seattle Parks and Rec’s squadron of guards has worked five city beaches that line the western edge of Lake Washington—Madison, Madrona, Mount Baker, Seward, and Pritchard Island in Rainier Beach. Now a father, Berrysmith appreciates not only the physical skill but the aura of authority required as a waterfront sentry. Of course, he can’t turn off his hyperattention, even while on vacation at a hotel pool: “I have to kind of face the wall. I’m like, oh man, I’m gonna have to snap into action.” Out of the water Berrysmith, who still considers a future as a firefighter, spends time drawing, skating, and, most importantly, standing watch over his three-year-old daughter. “As a parent, to see her happy to put her face in the water, jump off the side and blow bubbles. I’m so just ecstatic to see her do stuff like that.”
I really enjoy swimming in, like, a playful sense. It just kind of became this thing that stuck with me.
I did swim team, and I’m a competitive person but I never was a competitive swimmer. Swimming was just something I always enjoyed.
I’m a bigger dude. I’m an older brother, the oldest in my family of the cousins and stuff. So I’ve always been, like, the protector.
It’s rare that you’re really in the situation of true lifesaving. For the most part, it’s preventative.
You keep your head on a swivel, covering the whole area, down and back in less than 10 seconds.
There are a couple techniques that are really important. That’s how a 15-year-old can carry a 30-plus grown adult in the water.
I have done one really big rescue, during a triathlon. We did CPR, brought her back from no pulse, no breathing.
There was three of us directly involved, and we all are seasoned guards. You’re pretty shook up with something that’s that serious.
Luckily, everything went almost as good as it could have gone. The lady was out of the hospital in a day or two, a crazy surprising turnaround.
It’s good to take a second and, like, assess yourself before just running back out again, to say you’re good to guard.
Madison has the entire big beach kind of feel. It’s a picturesque situation.
It’s funny how it shakes out down there without any real guidance. Kids and families at the south end of the beach, the younger crowd at the north end.
Parents, you know: Please, please, please keep a close eye on your kid, because it only takes a second.
I don’t want to call the cops because you’re jumping off the dock.
For the most part, people have a good understanding of their own skill. But it’s easy to think you are where you left off, if the last time you swam was 10 years ago.
As a young person considering a career in firefighting, this felt like a good starting point. That’s not necessarily something that I’ve given up on.
I’ve always wanted to get, like, a tattoo or two. But it’s really hard to find a time where I’m not in the water two days in a row.