One of the core merit badges. Along with First Aid, Lifesaving tied into the Scout Motto, “Be Prepared.” I wanted Lifesaving, wanted to work as a lifeguard. The summer after I got Swimming, I took Lifesaving. It was an all afternoon, every afternoon class.
More distance, more strokes, more first aid, safe water entry, planning a safe swim, and the rescues. Rowboat and canoe rescues, throwing rings, swimming out with a buoy, and then just swimming out there. Going out alone without any equipment was the last resort, and discouraged as a good way to get two people drowned, but we learned it. The final testing on the last day of camp were all the rescues. Part of what they were looking for was the stamina, and the courage, necessary to attempt an open water rescue. The staff served as our “victims”.
Since you don’t ever holler “Help!” unless it’s a real emergency, we used a code word. Pineapple. There you stood on the dock, tired from a series of assisted rescues, and out beyond the ropes, a 20 year old staffer that outweighed you by 50 pounds splashed the water and hollered, “Pineapple! Pineapple!” It’s your turn. The rest of the class watches as you go.
In the real world, you would take a towel at least, throw him one end, never let him lay hands on you. Or wait for him to tire, even if he drowned. Grab something that floated and push it out to him. Anything but let him grab you.
Making a lifesaving entry, keeping my eyes on the victim, I swim out and when I get close enough he launches himself like an alligator and wraps his arms around my head. I sink, drive my thumbs into his armpits, force him off. I go deep, beneath his feet, the water dark and cold as I swim toward the bottom. Air is becoming an issue so I take an extra stroke and surface, turning toward the direction I think he’s in. As I break the surface I get a big gulp of air and realize I am behind him. I throw my right arm over his shoulder and press him up into a cross chest carry. He struggles, but I have a grip on his armpit and chest. Swimming a modified sidestroke I manage to make the beach. I will pass, and receive my Lifesaving merit badge at the fall Court of Honor.
Two years later I would take Red Cross Lifesaving and CPR, and decades later I would requalify so I could lead water activities as an adult Scouter. It is the basics, learned young, and ingrained, that stay with me. Because once, just once, I needed these skills, and a life hung in the balance. And at that moment, all I had was what I had learned as a Scout.
Be Prepared… the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.