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James Birdsell, a long-time San Diego lifeguard got himself a byline in The New York Times Sunday.

Birdsell offers a first-person account of the joys, stresses and sometimes heartache that comes with the job. And 47-year-old is not shy when it comes to his feelings about the workload of lifeguards, and the city’s need for more of them.

I work what’s called a “10-10-20.” That means I work two 10-hour days, followed by a 24-hour day. I work three days, and I’m off four. Most of the time, I also report for some sort of duty on one or two of my days off. We have about 30 people in our unit, but we probably need double that amount.

On the beach, the job is a lot like those “Where’s Waldo?” books. On a given shift, I’m charged with watching 5,000 or 10,000 people, and I have to make sure people aren’t doing something that could put them in a position of danger. In this sense, the job is proactive; I have to prevent problems before they occur. The good days on the beach are the days when everyone goes home safe.

Birdsell also mentions that San Diego lifeguards can retire at 50, something he plans to do.


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