14 things your lifeguard might not tell you
The presence of a lifeguard may make you feel safer at the pool, but there are some truths you should know.
Tue, Jun 07 2011 at 10:04 AM
Pools are opening up nationwide, and parents and children alike are looking forward to spending those long summer days lying by the poolside and splashing in the water. You may feel more secure knowing that you and your kids are under the watchful of eye of a trained lifeguard, but there may be many things that lifeguard isn’t telling you.
This pool needs more guards.
Everyone is cutting back these and this could include your local pool. Although most states regulate the number of guards required per square foot of pool, many facilities don’t comply and the rule is rarely enforced. In 2007, a Maryland court found that inadequate lifeguard staffing was a factor in the drowning of 5-year-old Connor Freed.
I’m terrified I’ll have to rescue someone.
Lifeguards are trained to handle emergencies and save lives, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely comfortable with the idea. If something goes wrong, all eyes are on them, and they come into work every day worried that someone could die on their watch. This is why guards dedicate so much time to enforcing rules and why they’re always blowing whistles and shouting, “No running!” — to keep an accident from occurring.
I hate it when your kids wear swimmies.
Those little flotation devices that you slide onto your kids’ arms might make you feel better, but they can be a nightmare for lifeguards. Swimmies give children a false sense of confidence in their swimming ability and they may venture into water that’s too deep for them. Plus, a swimmie can easily slide off, especially when a child jumps into the pool. When this happens, your child’s other arm is held above water — but his or her head isn’t. So skip the swimmies and opt for a PFD, or personal flotation device, with a crotch strap.
I wasn't that good at my training, and I haven’t practiced my skills in years.
The certification a lifeguard earns from the American Red Cross or YMCA simply means a guard has mastered the fundamentals. However, you don’t know how much a guard struggled with CPR training or how he or she barely passed the swim test. Plus, some lifeguard certifications are good for up to three years, so your guard might not have practiced skills or reviewed emergency plans in years. A guard’s basic training should be supplemented with additional instruction and safety drills, and their skills should be tested regularly. It’s a good idea to ask the head guard or pool manager if your guards are being drilled and how often.
You’re pretty safe — until the pool gets crowded.
Lifeguards learn techniques for scanning pools and keeping headcounts, but when the water is full of bobbing heads, splashing hands and flotation devices, visibility becomes a serious problem. With all that activity on top of the water, it becomes even more difficult to see if someone is on the bottom of the pool. And while a properly designed pool shouldn’t have blind spots, some areas are more challenging to keep an eye on, especially right underneath a lifeguard’s chair.
I’m too immature for this job.
Lifeguards can become certified at as young as 15 years old, and even your pool’s head lifeguard or pool manager could be a teenager. It can be difficult for adolescents to be assertive and enforce rules, especially when it comes to noncompliant parents, and while some young guards are vigilant and professional, others aren’t. Would you have been prepared to respond to a life-or-death crisis at the age of 15?
I’m in charge of the pool chemicals.
Believe it or not, many guards are in charge of handling pool chemicals and maintaining proper chlorine, pH and alkalinity levels. Yes, the 16-year-old guards at your local pool could be handling everything from chlorine to muriatic acid. Bacteria and parasites can thrive in water without a proper chlorine balance, and if the chlorine is too high, it can cause skin and eye irritation. Ask how and where your pool’s chemicals are stored, and be sure to ask who’s in charge of the chemicals and if that person is a certified pool operator.
I can report you if you’re causing trouble.
Just because your lifeguard is a teenager, doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a lot of authority. If you or your children are continually breaking rules, a guard can report you to their supervisor, the pool facility or even your neighborhood association. Some pool companies even have a hotline for lifeguards to report such problems. Follow safety guidelines and do as the lifeguard says or you and your children might not be allowed back in the water this summer.
The water might not be safe.
Lifeguards or pool operators should check the water’s chlorine and pH levels frequently to ensure the water can kill germs without irritating swimmers’ eyes and skin. If you’re unsure about your pool’s water, ask to see the logbook where these levels are recorded, or pick up test strips from a hardware store or pool supply store and test the water yourself.
If someone vomits in the pool, or if you notice a guard fishing something out of the water that looks suspiciously like a Baby Ruth bar, everyone should be out of the water and the pool should be closed. A fecal contamination can spread E. coli, hepatitis and parasites so the pool should be closed anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours, depending on the type of stool and chlorine levels, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Some guards may not be trained in how to handle such an incident, or they may be instructed to simply remove the contamination or to “shock” the pool — raising the amount of free chlorine to 10ppm — and allow swimmers back in, which isn't safe.
I’ve never actually rescued anyone.
Just because lifeguards are trained to rescue drowning swimmers, doesn’t mean they ever have. Some lifeguards work for years and never have to perform a rescue. In fact, 56 percent of American lifeguards working at outdoor pools have never had to pull someone out of the water, according to a 1999 International Lifeguard Survey.
I need to get my eyes checked.
Lifeguards rely on their eyesight, so it’s surprising that most certification programs don’t require a vision test. If you suspect a lifeguard has vision problems, talk to his or her supervisor or the pool manager.
I wish you’d let me give your kids a swim test.
You may think your child is a great swimmer, but it’s common for parents to overestimate their children’s abilities. If your child wants to swim in the deep end of the pool or jump off the diving board, or if you’re hosting a pool party for several children, let the lifeguard administer a swim test first and determine what parts of the pool are safe for each kid. Each year, more than 830 children ages 14 and under die as a result of unintentional drowning, according to Safe Kids USA.
I get distracted and sometimes I fall asleep.
Staring at the water for hours on end can be mind numbing, and it’s easy for a guard’s thoughts to wander to her lunch plans or his eyes to wander to a group of bikini-clad girls. Sitting in the hot sun for hours can also be physically draining, and if you’ve ever had to lifeguard a 5 a.m. water aerobics class, then you know how easy it is for your eyelids to droop. If your pool’s guards aren’t taking breaks, rotating positions or calling adult swim — or if you’re simply not sure his eyes are open behind those sunglasses — talk to a pool manager or head guard.
You need to watch your kids, too.
A public pool isn’t a daycare, and just because there’s a lifeguard on duty, it doesn’t mean your child is safe. According to the Drowning Prevention Center, one in five children drown in public pools with lifeguards present. You don’t have to be in the water with your children, but you should definitely keep an eye on them.
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