This article, written by an HRCA lifeguard, is reprinted from Colorado Drowning Prevention Taskforce web site.
On the Stand - A lifeguard's perspective
Have you ever been in a store and realized that your child has wondered off? Your heart sinks and your ‘gut’ fills with anxiety of what could be. What’s your first instinct? …Go!
The same is for a lifeguard on stand when they see a child showing signs of actively drowning. Our instinct….GO! In fact, many times you will hear a lifeguard say: If I don’t know, I GO! As a lifeguard, we would rather err on the side of proactive safety than have to live with other possible consequences for the rest of our lives and yours. Those are two very different conversations to have with parents.
What are some signs of active drowning that lifeguards look for?
The victim normally has a vertical body position with arms out to the side in the water, making little to no forward movement. Their head is tilted back so that their mouth will remain above water. Their eyes may be squeezed shut or wide open with a look of panic. They will rarely make a call for help as their main focus is: GET AIR. Another telling sign of child in need of help is “Bobbing.” Many times this is mistaken for play, when in fact it is a red flag that they are in trouble and need assistance.
How can you assist a lifeguard when at the pool with your child?
If they are not a strong swimmer, have them wear a Coast Guard approved Personal Floatation Device, (Note- arm floaties will not keep your child’s head above water, but do a really nice job of keeping their arms above water). Many public pools, water parks, and recreation districts have Coast Guard approved Type II lifejackets at their facilities that you can ‘check out’ while you enjoy their pools.
Many public facilities clear their pools each hour; use this time to assess your child’s energy level.
Let your children know what is ‘off limits’ at the pool before getting in: The deep end. The big slide. The diving boards. Know where your child is in the water at all times.Be within arms reach at all times.This is greatest level of protection you can provide your child when at the pool. In addition, you are having some great quality time with your child.
By using these simple tips, you can assist the lifeguards in keeping the pools safe for everyone. Next time you see a lifeguard go in the pool, remember, they just had that heart sinking- gut feeling that they needed to go!
Colorado Drowning Prevention Taskforce Member
Janice Weed (Highlands Ranch Community Association)