LIFEGUARDS

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A Tribute: A Personal Perspective

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The beaches of Lake Michigan have been the refuge for many from the heat and boredom of a summer afternoon.  Ask Kenneth Albert Wollin, he can tell you a story or two about protecting the lives of those who enjoyed swimming at Oak Street Beach in Chicago in the 50s and 60s.

Ken grew up in a neighborhood with a local public pool where he could often be found. His local YMCA offered free swim classes on Saturdays, so his mother sent him to get a minnow badge.  It was here that Ken found his love: swimming. Spending hours of his time at pools, he became a better, stronger and accomplished swimmer. Ken easily obtained his Boy Scout swimming badge one of many badges on his path to reaching one of his goals. Ken was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout. He was accepted to Lane Tech.

The Chicago Park Beach Patrol, always looking for top lifeguard recruits, enlisted the help of local swim team coaches.  The coaches were asked to submit candidates to compete for a position on their Lifeguard Squads.  Accepting a position as Lifeguard with the Chicago Park District meant becoming part of a tradition and culture of honor, hard work and dedication. It was not glamorous, just the serious business of keeping swimmers safe and the beaches a top destination for a great summer day.

The testing and competition for these positions was fierce.   It required several levels of expertise, strength and valor.  Valor is a word long forgotten in our dictionaries, but well acquainted with these young men on the beach.  They knew their position, and they were vigilant in their focus.  The Beach Patrol had levels of authority and was run like a military watch, with roles like Captain and Mate.   Ken was 16 when he joined this prestigious group of young men.  On his first day he saved 2 swimmers.  He was given an award and recognized in the Chicago Tribune later that year for this specific rescue.  It would be one of many rescues Ken would make throughout his fifteen year career on the beach.  When Ken left to raise a family, he had risen to Captain and Instructor in the Chicago Park District Lifeguard Training School.

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Are you truly one of these guards?
If not, do you plan to dedicate yourself to being one of these lifeguards? If your answer is no, then for the sake of the lives of those who believe you are protecting them, please find another line of work! If your answer is yes, then understand every aspect of your job and your areas of responsibility.

It is critical that you are confident that you will immediately recognize a person in trouble!


IF IN DOUBT, GET THEM OUT!

You are a Lifeguard not a Lifesaver! You must anticipate and prevent injuries and emergencies by implementing your Drowning Risk & Recognition Training.  CPR should NEVER be necessary due to drowning.

Please review the Aquatics Director section of this site.  Being a lifeguard is MORE THAN A SUMMER JOB, you deserve training, support and professional management!
It is critical that your facility aquatic director/supervisor or pool company prioritizes safety! There must be a tradition of training and supervision. They must never schedule anyone on the staff to work alone. They must provide structured, scheduled, and mandatory ongoing training, drills, and practices and must keep records of these events and the staff who are present.

Lifeguards, you should ONLY work at a facility that schedules rotations and personnel with consideration given to the age, ability and experience of each lifeguard!  You do not want YOUR LIFE FOREVER CHANGED because the facility viewed lifeguards as warm bodies required to fill lifeguard stations!


Before accepting a job, ask yourself  these extremely important questions.  It is crucial for you to evaluate the facility and its management carefully.

  • Does this facility require mandatory Drowning Risk & Recognition Training every year prior to your first assignment?
  • Does this facility prioritize safety?
  • Does this facility give consideration to my age, lifeguard experience, lifeguard experience at this specific facility, or any other aspects specific to me and the facility when preparing my personal work schedule?
  • Is there a possibility that I may be placed at a lifeguard station where I don’t yet have adequate experience to ensure the safety of everyone?
  • Will this facility schedule me to be on duty with guards who are not qualified for the stations where they have been scheduled to work?
  • Do I want to be one of the guards, or the only guard, on duty when a tragedy occurs because the facility did not schedule me or other guards according to ability and experience?
  • Does the facility allow lifeguards to have cellphones, books, food while actively working at a station?
  • Does the facility allow lifeguards to visit and talk to anyone while actively working at a station?
  • Does the facility allow patrons to interact with lifeguards, even if only to ask a quick question?
  • Does this facility give lifeguards complete control of everyone at the facility?
  • Does this facility support its aquatic staff’s decisions and actions when enforcing the facilities rules and regulations?

PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY ON DUTY, ALL STAFF MUST ATTEND A MANDATORY TRAINING SEMINAR DEVOTED SOLELY TO DROWNING RISK & RECOGNITION.

DROWNING IS SILENT WITH VERY LITTLE OR NO SPLASHING!
No human being is drown proof!

There is much debate, discussion and confusion regarding water safety terminology.  SwimSafe4Life is more concerned with the importance of getting drowning risk & recognition and life-saving information into the hands of as many people as possible, than terminology. However terminology is important, so terms and some clarifications are addressed later in this page.

The average person can hold their breath for approximately 25 seconds.

A person in trouble MAY be able to wave, call out or splash. These victims are struggling to breathe and survive.

  • The victim is likely in distress
  • The victim may be able to reach for and grab a piece of equipment such as life buoy, rescue tube, hook, or something thrown or handed  to them, such as a towel, kick board, a shirt, etc.
  • The victim may be able to hold on to the item and be pulled to safety.
  • CAUTION: Ample distance must be maintained between the rescuer and the victim! Many victims are capable of pulling their rescuer under the water putting the rescuer’s life at risk.

A drowning victim WILL:    

  • quietly slip into the water and never surface or
  • struggle at the surface of the water

Many people in trouble WILL NOT be able to wave, call out or splash.  These victims are struggling to breathe to survive.

Signs of drowning [1]:

  • Arms are extending partially or fully out to the sides pressing down on the water.
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level.
  • Head tilted back with mouth open.
  • A child’s head may fall forward.
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus.
  • Eyes open, with fear evident on the face.
  • Hair may over forehead or eyes.
  • Not progressing or moving in any direction.
  • Vertical in water.
  • Horizontal in the water and appear to be doing the dog paddle or climbing an invisible ladder.
  • Trying to roll over on their back.
  • Floating face down at the bottom or near the surface of the water.
    _______________________________________________________________
    [1] Complied from recognized aquatic experts and organizations

IF IN DOUBT, GET THEM OUT!

Because seconds count it must be assumed that if you see anyone exhibiting even one of the signs described above, they need immediate help. You must act with no hesitation! Alert a lifeguard or other aquatic staff. ONLY intervene yourself if you can confidently do so without putting yourself at ANY risk, as might be the case with a small child in water below your chest.

HESITATING TO INTERVENE MAY BE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEATH, PERMANENT BRAIN INJURY OR FULL RECOVERY.  ERRING ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION IS THE ONLY ERROR YOU SHOULD EVER MAKE IN REGARD TO DROWNING INTERVENTION!

Consequences for anyone pretending to need help MUST be:

  • understood in advance of entering the water.
  • immediate and substantive.

The surface struggle of a drowning person lasts 20 – 60 seconds before submersion.

Stages of drowning:

  • Surprise or distress
  • Gasping for air.
  • Instinctive drowning response. (many of the signs above)
  • Submersion.
  • Inhalation of water, followed by respiratory arrest.
  • Cardiac arrest.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • Death, various degrees of permanent brain damage or full recovery.

LEARN CPR, but ALWAYS CALL 911!

The victim has the best chance when there is an early rescue, and if CPR is needed, it is initiated correctly and immediately.

There is NO time to wait for help. Calling and listening to the 911 operator is critical:

  • if CPR is needed, it MUST be administered immediately!
  • whether you have a current CPR certification, your certification is long expired or you have never had any training you MUST administer CPR.
  • because the operator will give specific instructions on how to place the victim and how to administer CPR based on the estimate of age and weight of the victim.
  • due to ongoing research, CPR recommendations are constantly being revised. So even if you’re currently certified, listen to the 911 operator.
  • stay on the phone with you the operator until the EMT’s arrive.

Why the 911 operator so critical:

  • Oxygen must get to the brain of a drowning victim immediately!
  • All parts of the victim, arms, legs, etc. must be flat on the ground in order to for compressions to be most efficient.
  • Water and food may come out of the victim. (This is normal, but it is not the movies.The victim won’t cough sit up and be fine.)
  • The operator will ask you to describe what happened.
  • The operator will then advise you on what to do next.
  • CPR will most likely need to be continued.
  • At any point while administering CPR if something changes, for example: a faint heart beat is felt, tell the operator.

Listen to the 911 operator – not bystanders. Every second is critical. Take action, don’t hesitate and you could be the single most important factor that determined the final drowning outcome for the victim.

ANYONE RESCUED AFTER SUBMERSION IS NOT NECESSARILY OUT OF DANGER!
It is critical that anyone rescued after suspected submersion be taken immediately to an emergency room.  It must be clear that is not an option.

IF IT IS SUSPECTED THAT ANYONE MAY HAVE INHALED WATER EVEN A SMALL AMOUNT, OR SUSPECTED OF DRINKING TOO MUCH WATER (PARTICULARLY YOUNG CHILDREN), EVEN IF THEY FEEL, LOOK AND ACT FINE THEY MUST BE TAKEN TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM IMMEDIATELY!
Life or death may depend on the action you take! The child or adult may appear fine at first but could die within a few hours or even a few days after the incident. Their lungs must be immediately examined in a hospital!

If you are a new guard, regardless of your age, you do not have the experience to work alone or with another new guard!  For your sake and the safety of patrons, your supervisor should assign lifeguard stations and responsibilities that match your training and experience.

SwimSafe4Life does not support the policy of a sole lifeguard on duty – EVER!

In addition to Drowning Risk & Recognition Training, ensure that training also includes:

  • How to supervise critical, easy-to-overlook areas of your station (under your chair, on the stairs, on the side of walls, at depth changes, in currents, and at other specific areas unique to your facility)
  • How to scan the zone
  • How to adjust when your line of sight is temporarily compromised by permanent obstacles (slides, curves in the pool), people, and other variables unique to your facility that create blind spot
  • All pools, resort-style pools especially, have many blind spots and areas where a swimmer in distress in certain conditions can’t be seen by a lifeguard.
  • With mannequins and silhouettes at every station you will be assigned to? 
  • Do you know the danger spots for each guard station?
  • Has your supervisor created guard stations positioned to eliminate blind spots, whether permanent or situational?

If you work for a pool company and are a seasonal lifeguard you should be assigned to a specific facility for the duration of your employment. You should report to a specific supervisor and be trained and drilled at that facility by that supervisor prior to taking any lifeguard station assignment. If you are moved permanently to a different facility, then you must repeat this process at the new facility. Every facility is different and has its own unique challenging areas.

ALL PEOPLE IN THE WATER SHOULD BE WITHIN THE LINE OF SIGHT OF A LIFEGUARD AT ALL TIMES – A TEMPORARY BLIND SPOT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

Complete a daily checklist before going on duty each day:

  • You follow protocol for changing guard stations while maintaining your duty requirements:
    • The guard going on duty controls the zone from the deck while the guard going off duty moves out of position.
    • The guard going off duty guards the zone from the deck while the guard going on duty moves into position.
    • Once the guard going on duty is in position, the other guard is relieved of duty at that station.
  • You will not engage with patrons while on duty.
  • You know the pool rules and enforce them consistently.
  • You know and have drilled and practiced Drowning Risk & Recognition Training.
  • You know and have drilled and practiced your first aid/CPR/AED skills.
  • You know and have drilled the facility EAP.
  • You do not have your phone or any personal device with you while on duty.
  • You know the signs and can recognize a person in need of help.
  • You are rested, alert, and able to focus.
  • You will not work alone.
  • There is an experienced, certified adult supervisor on duty at the pool at all times to support you.
  • You know how to instantly communicate with your team members and your supervisor.
  • You know the emergency whistle system and practice it daily.
  • You know the procedure for how to alert other guards when you must go in the pool, address a safety concern, or leave your position for any reason.
  • You know the procedure for clearing the pool quickly and efficiently.
  • Your facility allows only U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices (PFDs).
  • At your discretion, you insist that a specific child wear a PFD or move to a toddler area.

The aquatic staff is in charge of the pool at all times. There must be no exceptions to this rule.

  • Patrons must not be allowed to assert any control over you or the staff while on duty, nor may they be allowed to interact with you while you are on duty.
  • Adult patrons, regardless of status, must follow all pool rules and respect your enforcement of the rules when they or their children violate them.
  • It is critical that all patrons know the supervisor and lifeguards are in charge of the pool. PERIOD. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Don’t let yourself be intimidated, and don’t doubt yourself. Seconds count, and a guard must never hesitate! If a patron questions your decision, he should talk to your supervisor.

You must feel supported and trust your supervisor and head guard:

  • Are they all prepared to back you up?
  • Do they correct or admonish you privately. They should.
  • Do they publicly correct or admonish you?  Unacceptable! Why? Fear of public embarrassment could:
    • Cause you to hesitate when deciding if what you see is really a person in trouble. Seconds count, and that hesitation could be  the difference between a quick safe rescue or a delayed rescue that now requires CPR that could result in permanent brain damage or death.
    • Cause you to not enforce a rule that could lead to an injury or emergency.
  • If there is a problem, your supervisor should immediately intervene on your behalf and make it clear that, while on duty, the aquatics staff, which includes you, is in charge of the pool at all times! PERIOD. NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • Your supervisors must pledge to you that they will not allow you to be intimidated or to doubt yourself due to inaction or action taken by them.

Encourage the aquatics director or supervisor to create a SwimSafe4Life Community Commitment Board which includes:
1. A picture of the staff member with first name only*
2. A copy of a current Lifeguarding Certification*
3. A copy of a current CPR for the Professional Rescuer Certification*
4. A copy of a current First Aid Certification*
5. Proof of attendance, within the past 12 months, of a Drowning Risk & Recognition Training Seminar[1]*

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[1] With the exception of a first name, all other personal information should not be visible.

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