May is National Water Safety Month.
This will be the first post of three to share vital knowledge about water safety and what you can do to protect yourself and your children from the hidden and apparent dangers of playing in and around water.
Due to the great recession of 2008-2012, many public recreation and parks departments were forced to close facilities: community centers, park restrooms and swimming pools, in particular. Several communities elected to outsource their swimming pools to organizations that may not have had strong aquatic backgrounds. Pool operators need to know a variety of facility-related functions specific to pools like chemical handling, state and local laws and codes and regulations; and establishing and maintaining public relations in the community.
Sadly, there are many instances of well-meaning facility operators who failed in their attempt to successfully run a public pool because they were unaware of the aquatic industry’s best practices.
What Do You See? Water Clarity
As you walk into the pool facility, can you see the main drain in the deepest part of pool? If the water looks cloudy and you see can’t see it, tell the Pool Manager immediately, then ask for a refund and go home. Do not swim in cloudy pool water. The cloudiness is a tell-tale sign of a chemical imbalance, where the pH balance and chlorine levels could be out of equilibrium.
The danger? If lifeguards cannot see the main drain, they may miss a drowning patron. Chemical imbalances are temporary conditions which can be remedied quickly. A good pool operator will close the pool for a short time to fix the problem.
What Do You Know? Swimmer Safety
Lifeguards are not there to supervise children and teens. Their job is to safeguard all swimmers by preventing accidents and anticipating problems. Too many parents expect lifeguards to babysit their kids while they settle into their lounge chairs for reading or a nap. Parents still need to have both eyes on their kids.
This does not mean that lifeguards are incompetent. Again, their only job is to scan the pool from bottom to top, inside their zones, and meticulously note potential threats. Of course the lifeguard will firmly communicate with unruly patrons when necessary, but they cannot be expected to pay particular attention to any one swimmer.
If you are visiting a public pool, be aware of the rules and practices. Children under 6 years of age, or older children who are weak swimmers, should be within arm’s reach of an adult in the water. This means the parent or guardian must be in the water with them.
This also goes for day care providers and day camp operators. For example, if your child or grandchild attends a swimming pool as part of a summer program, find out if the recreation leaders actually get into the water with the kids. A surprise visit to the facility by you may not be a bad idea.
What do you hear? Evidence of Lifeguard Training
Next time you visit a pool, listen for any signs of a drill. Usually, the blaring sound of an air horn or a piercing whistle blast is evidence that emergency protocols are activated. Oftentimes, pool operators will train staff by holding “red-shirt” drills whereby a designated person pretends to be a distressed swimmer, in hopes the particular lifeguard responds appropriately.
Other on-site training techniques may include drills where first aid or CPR is demonstrated. During these drills, it is customary for lifeguards to clear the pool and gain control of the crowd, while another set of guards responds to the emergency. If you see these occasionally during public swim, it means the staff is well-trained and keeping their rescue and CPR skills up to date.
The danger? An untrained lifeguard helps no one. Remember, most lifeguards are as young as 15 and 16 years old and for most of them, lifeguarding is their first job. While lifeguarding is a fun and seemingly glamorous job, a lot of hours of training go into becoming a vigilant watcher of water. As Mark Twain said, “Training is everything.”
If a pool operator is to be trusted with running a clean pool facility with competent well-trained staff, you are likely to freely enjoy the benefits of your community’s public pool.
Stay tuned for parts two and three of of May is National Water Safety Month.