As a child, Grégory Vincent already spent his days at the pool. In Périgueux, where he grew up, all he had to do was cross the railway line in front of his house to go swimming under the supervision of his father… lifeguard. Then, Grégory Vincent passed his National Water Safety and Rescue Certificate (BNSSA), before also becoming a lifeguard in 2007. Aged 44, he lives a few streets from the municipal swimming pool of Brive-la -Gaillarde, his place of work. He is also president of the Corrèze committee of lifeguards.
and water rescuers.
The Weekly Cross: What makes you get up in the morning?
Gregory Vincent: Swimming ! I like to teach it. It’s honourable, I think, to pass on an activity that may one day save a life. Above all, there are often sports that stigmatize a category of people or income. Like golf, for example. Even if it has become popular, it is rarely found in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The particularity of the swimming pool is that everyone goes there. From the doctor to the lawyer, passing by the worker. In the water, we find families, regulars who come to swim during the lunch break, young people who do not go on vacation and find refuge in our pools. All social categories meet at the swimming pool.
At work, how is it going?
GV: It is complicated. The public often has the image of the lifeguard in swimming trunks with his pole, taking it easy. Unlike lifeguards at sea, who have more prestige, we are considered above all as animators. Yet, some mornings when I get up, I know the day is going to be tense. High heat is announced, the inhabitants are not yet on vacation. The pool will be crowded. Recently, we recorded on one day between 1,200 and 1,300 people. This summer, we had interior temperatures that rose to 40 degrees. We are also in a chlorinated, humid and noisy atmosphere.
It is very tiring for us. After a few hours, vigilance inevitably decreases. However, the surveillance lasts from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a break of three quarters of an hour for lunch. The rest of the day, we can’t relax. It is tedious work.
Besides, we often do the police. There is a great diversity, it is good. But this can cause friction between users. For example, sometimes there are young people who have fun and crash into older people without doing so on purpose. As far as I can remember, with the experience of my father, also a lifeguard, there have always been problems. But sometimes it goes further. I’ve been spat on before. On the one hand, I tell myself that these are the vagaries of the trade. On the other, it’s exhausting. Finally, I have already had users who fight in the middle of the basin. There, we called the police.
Who do you trust?
GV: To some colleagues. But it’s difficult, because we have criminal liability in the basin. In the event of an accident, the gendarmerie will investigate to find out if there was a fault on the part of the lifeguards at the time of the rescue action or a lack of supervision. A moment of inattention can cost a user their life. Contrary to popular belief, drowning is silent. It’s not like in the movies, there’s no screaming or the sound of beating. Here we have eddies and jets that cause currents. Often, grannies get carried away. We must be vigilant towards the elderly, who are more vulnerable. I intervened more in the water to save old people than children.
Has a scene stood out to you recently? Tell us.
GV: It’s not recent, but I’m still scarred. A few years ago I was at my in-laws, by the swimming pool, all alone, with my two children. My son, who must have been three years old at the time, wanted to pick up one of his armbands that had fallen in the water. During this time, I was with my back to the swimming pool, because I wanted to go to the kitchen. But out of conscience or professional reflex, I turned around. I no longer saw my son. Approaching the pool, I saw him drowning. I immediately jumped into the water to catch him. If I had turned around thirty seconds later, I could have lost my son. No one is safe from drowning. Not even the lifeguards.
What would change your life right now?
GV: Change jobs… Or at least improve our working conditions. Our federations are fighting to have the hardship of lifeguards recognized, but at the national level, it is a deaf ear. However, we had a sports minister who was a swimming champion, Roxana Maracineanu, during the previous five-year term. But it did not advance the cause of the lifeguards… For a few years, the trade does not attract any more. We are struggling to recruit.
And for tomorrow, an idea to change the world?
GV: We should strengthen the public service instead of depriving it. Our children will not know the one we have known, in particular because of dematerialization, which excludes some, such as the elderly. However, access for all guarantees equal treatment between people, whether they are rich or poor. This is what the swimming pool allows.