Relay: The Formula For Cold Sweat

What could be simpler?

   I recently completed a two-day course to become a C.P.O., a certified pool operator, a person who’s responsible for keeping swimming pools and spas free of disease, injury, and worse. The class was held upstairs at the Montauk Firehouse.
    Most of the dozen or so who attended were renewing their certification. I was a first-timer and knew that chlorine had to be kept at a certain level to keep pathogens at bay. What could be simpler? 
    A whole lot, I soon realized, as Paul Blake, a National Swimming Pool Foundation instructor, plopped the 300-page “Pool and Spa Operator Handbook” on the table in front of me along with my own stack of worksheets, a green chartreuse highlighter, and (God help me) a calculator. Oh no!
    As Mr. Blake introduced himself I began to randomly leaf through the handbook only to find page after page of graphs and chemical equations. What’s the formula for cold sweat? The course was intense, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day with a three-hour test the final afternoon. I began to panic.
    Mr. Blake had us jump right into calculations for surface area of rectangular pools, round pools, kidney-shape pools. Then he showed us how to calculate the number of gallons they contained. We learned the chemistry of chlorine and the difference between free and combined chlorine. High and low pH, total alkalinity, and calcium hardness were explained.
    We talked giardia, shigella, norovirus, E. coli, the cause of swimmer’s ear, and how to respond to a “fecal incident.”
    Now, I’ve been a journalist for nearly 30 years. I’ve liked the learning part of the job, although at times the research can be a challenge. As I sat there hour after hour in the firehouse, I realized how long it had been since I graduated from college. Forty-four years ago this June, and since then I have not been taught, that is, spoon-fed information in any kind of formal way. How nice it was to sit and have knowledge showered upon me by someone who knew his stuff and better yet, knew how to get it across.
    I didn’t ace the test by a long shot, but I passed it, and at least now I know how to respond to a fecal incident, something I’d witnessed in verbal form during many an official gathering in my day job as a reporter — “Everyone out of the pool!”


   Russell Drumm is a senior writer for The Star.