JD Hills can usually be found in his work suit – a bathing suit. That’s because JD has proudly been a Red Cross Aquatics Program instructor since 1951 when he joined as a junior lifeguard.
Growing up in upstate New York, his mother would roll bandages for the Red Cross during the war and send JD to their local Red Cross chapter to volunteer doing whatever they needed. But what he really dreamed of doing was being a junior lifeguard, so much so that he initially fibbed about his age to get into the program.
Ever since then he has been teaching swimming, water safety, lifeguard skills, first aid, CPR, AED and much more. He has also taught at national aquatics schools and in various places where he was invited to teach, including the Caribbean, because they didn’t have anyone else locally that was qualified. When he was in the Navy (Naval Air) serving six years in the military, he was assigned to the section that trained pilots in water rescue and survival and ran training for the base, as well as going to sea for a few cruises.
In addition to lifeguarding, JD has made an impact in numerous ways. He came to Ft. Lauderdale as the director of health and safety for the Red Cross and wrote numerous grants totaling over $1 million for health and safety programs. He moved on to be a firefighter for the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and then a teacher in the Broward School District utilizing his two master’s degrees as a reading specialist. And yes, outside of the classroom he has saved many lives due to his knowledge and skills, and being in the right place at the right time.
JD is an excellent problem solver. Once after a hurricane in Ft. Lauderdale, the county radio tower was destroyed at the police station and no one knew what to do about communications. He called the Air Force base and they sent someone to repair the tower. Another time, he helped coordinate thousands of units of food to be distributed to Mariel boatlift immigrants stranded on a dock in Key West and other places the individuals were being sent to for processing.
But JD is happiest in the water. “I’ve done it all,” he says, “but my favorite part of being an aquatics instructor is the people. I love the people. I love when you connect with people and they remember you and call you years later.” Two of his close friends were his students in 1980 are still instructors today.
"It’s all a challenge. The biggest lesson I try to give my students is that you want to treat everybody equally and you want to be fair and you want everyone who works for you to be treated the same and succeed," says JD.
On April 25, JD received the Lifetime Water Safety Achievement Award for dedicating his talents and abilities during 60 years of service – teaching lifesaving skills in water safety to members of our community while supporting the First National Water Safety Program in the United States created by the American Red Cross.
Even today, JD continues to teach. His advice? “Take a course! You will enjoy it and all the people surrounding the Red Cross.”
You can learn water safety and lifesaving skills by registering for one of many Red Cross classes. If you want to meet JD, look for the short guy in the swimming trunks.
Written by Estefania Garcia