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Beckwith is half-joking. She loves her job. She says the chlorine isn't as bad as it used to be. There's even talk of sound-proofing the walls to deal with the noise. And those AFRs don't happen nearly as often as people think—maybe once a month. Plus, Beckwith started at Currents four years ago, working at the front desk, and was eventually promoted to lifeguard. She's one of many on staff who have worked their way up through a system that can groom a summer volunteer into a managerial position.
"It's hard when you're stuck in here and it's 80 degrees outside and gorgeous," says Beckwith, who's also a certified scuba diver. "But at the same time, when it's 20 degrees outside or 10 below, it's great to wear shorts and a T-shirt and a bathing suit to work."
Of course, there's another aspect to this gig that rises above work conditions. Lifeguards like Beckwith got into the business, especially at an indoor pool in Montana, because they're up to the challenge of being responsible for the well-being of others. Above all, they're there to save people.
Brooke Coty doesn't fit the usual profile of a Currents lifeguard. She's a 39-year-old mother of three who went through all of the requisite aquatics safety training because of a harrowing near-drowning incident with one of her daughters. She wanted to know how to perform a water rescue and, if necessary, resuscitate someone should anything like her daughter's scare ever happen again. Coty had no intention of becoming a full-fledged lifeguard until a part-time position later opened up at Currents, four years ago.
"It can get wild when you have 225 or so people in the pool, at the capacity, that you're in charge of," says Coty. "That's when you remember your training, you realize why we do in-service training every two weeks during the summer and you see exactly why you're needed. I can tell you, we take our jobs very seriously."
Beckwith says rookie guards start at $8.07 an hour. During the fall and winter, Missoula Parks and Rec employs about 17 lifeguards. When Splash! opens in the summer, that number nearly triples to between 40 and 45.
Even with the increased seasonal staff, some aspects of the job don't change. Coty, who has been promoted to the position of Aquatic Program Specialist, still lifeguards during the busy summer months. That means she gets to work outside, swim laps in the 50-meter pool with the sun on her back, twirl her whistle and wear sunscreen. For those few weeks, at least, she embodies that glossed perception of the perfect summer job. A real-life neighborhood hero, free from the confines of an indoor facility.
Except for the occasional "Code Brown." Those are still part of the job.
"All lifeguards have to scrub toilets and handle the accidental releases," she says. "Nobody is above it or beneath it, even the managers."
by Jessica Mayrer
The temperature warms on a recent fall morning, making the smell on the side of Highway 93 in Victor even more pungent. Flies swarm. The stench rises from what's left of a pregnant doe and her two unborn fawns. They're scattered in pieces along the southbound lanes.
"I think a semi might have got that one," says Montana Department of Transportation crew leader Scott Reesman.
Big rigs, minivans and sedans whiz by as Reesman shovels the dead doe from the road. It's barely 10 a.m. and he's already picked up four animals between Victor and Darby, not including the two fawns.
MDT is charged with hauling road kill from highways. It's a safety hazard, and someone's got to deal with it. In the Bitterroot, that someone is often Reesman. He and his four-man crew pick up roughly eight such animals per week in the Bitterroot Valley. During the fall rut, when bucks prowl for mates, the workload increases.
Reesman isn't phased by the stench. The animals' lifeless eyes don't disturb him, nor does the blood and intestines, the maggots and flies. He's a pragmatist. There are a lot of deer out there. And he's got more work to do.
"It doesn't smell good, but you just kind of block it out," he says. "It's just, like, hurry up and go."
Reesman is a 50-year-old Montana native and father of three. He's worked for MDT for more than three decades. Carcass removal is only one of the tasks he oversees. He's also responsible for ensuring roads are cleared of snow in the winter, bridges are free from logjams in the spring and roads are repaved during summer.
Reesman and his crew try to get to the animals as quickly as possible. But, as there are bridges to seal and waterways to clear, sometimes it takes a couple of days. By then, animals can get pretty ripe. "Flies will be blowing, starting maggots before we even get there overnight," he says. "I had a deer so fat and bloated that it popped and shot warm blood on the side of my face."
Reesman says his favorite part of the job is composting the remains"the funnest part of the roadkill for me."
Reesman is, in fact, a carcass-composting pioneer. In 2005, he helped launch the state's first animal composting facility in Victor. It's a model for roughly a dozen others like it across the state.
The Victor "deer pit," as Reesman calls it, is located just off Highway 93 at mile marker 62.7. Driving toward the pit, one first sees tall dark compost piles. Inching closer, it becomes clear these aren't ordinary compost piles: Stray limbs, hoofs, skulls and hunks of fur are scattered about the site.
In addition to helping launch the deer pit, Reesman also provided his expertise for MDT's carcass composting manual. It's a 12-page primer published in 2007 that spells out the ins and outs of breaking down road kill. The process is simple: Dead deer are placed in a bin with wood chips. Heat and moisture are applied to help grow bacteria, which break down organic materials over time. MDT's composting manual explains, "The MDT process is much like building a sandwich with road kill in the middle that will cook themselves into compost."
Heat kills anything that could harm humans, Reesman says. "I would put this on my garden."
The compost is typically just left at the pit. However, two years ago, MDT launched a pilot project, using the deer compost as fertilizer on a handful of rocky areas along the sides of Bitterroot roads. (The Montana Department of Environmental Quality vetted that project to ensure it was safe.) "At least stuff grew," Reesman says.