It’s best when Ben Summers doesn’t need to towel-off at the end of a work shift. Means he hasn’t been in the pool.

But, recently, the Fox Valley Park District lifeguard made a big splash. A really – really – big splash.

Summers – a veteran lifeguard of three and a half years at the FVPD’s Vaughan Athletic Center – was awarded the prestigious “International Golden Guard Safety Award” following an unannounced audit conducted by Jeff Ellis & Associates, Inc., an international aquatic safety and risk management consulting firm dedicated to the prevention and elimination of drowning.

All FVPD lifeguards are Ellis-certified and subject to a handful of unannounced audits throughout the year. According to Joe Stefanyak, a senior director at Ellis, less than one percent of all evaluated lifeguards receive the Golden Guard award.

“And we evaluate roughly 40,000 worldwide,” Stefanyak said.

That statistic places Summers – an 18-year-old Yorkville High School graduate and current student at Waubonsee Community College – in exclusive company.

“We are excited to recognize lifeguards who are clearly the best of the best,” said Richard A. Carol, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Ellis. “(Summers) is a role model for lifeguards everywhere and further underscores the fact that guests at (Vaughan) are afforded the highest degree of swimmer protection currently available in the aquatic recreation and amusement industry.”

Said Summers of the award: “I was completely shocked, speechless.”

Ellis-conducted audits typically consist of a two-day process. Day one includes undercover video surveillance of individual lifeguards to accurately evaluate the guards’ professional diligence, attentiveness and overall quality. On day two, guards are tested on basic life support skills, such as CPR, along with simulated emergencies that measure the effectiveness of the facility’s established Emergency Action Plans.

Summers, you might say, set the curve.

“We’ve had saves, I’ve had saves,” Summers said, “but I’ve never had to perform CPR on someone, which is obviously good, because you want to identify the save before it gets to that point.”

Summers has been guarding at the FVPD for three and a half years, and now pulls double duty as an instructor to aspiring lifeguards. His “If you don’t know, go,” message is “something I’m constantly repeating during my classes, and it’s just something to reinforce while you’re watching the water,” Summers said. “If you’re not quite sure if someone’s in trouble, it’s always better to go in for them.”

Though “uneventful” workdays are the best days for a lifeguard, there’s a true feeling of gratification that washes over Summers, regardless if a save is required during any given shift.

“Just being in charge of swimmer safety, it gives me a sense of pride having people’s lives in my hands that I know I can protect if something happens,” Summers said. “And I know they have faith in me, sitting up there on the stand, watching the water.”

As a collective staff, the FVPD’s Aquatics team received the “Gold International Aquatic Safety Award” – defined by Ellis that FVPD-operated facilities “consistently exceed industry standards in risk management and epitomize aquatic safety excellence.”

“These awards acknowledge the commitment we have to upholding premium aquatic safety plans and procedures,” said Jim Pilmer, the FVPD’s executive director. “We hold our trainers and lifeguards to the highest of standards, and that’s a practice we intend to maintain.”

Interested in becoming a lifeguard?
The FVPD is accepting applications for lifeguards and swim instructors. Starting at $11/hour, enjoy flexible hours and free fitness membership. Apply online at