Are Pool Lifeguards Skilled Enough?

The following is a story that was published by ABC News last July and clearly illustrates the need for better trained and disciplined lifeguards. It is true that experience combined with maturity does go a long way in the prevention of drownings. It also depends on the level of training the lifeguards initially received and also depends on their continuing education.


Many private lifeguard companies in Southern California do not mandate in-service training to help lifeguards sharpen their surveillance skills which often times leads to a needless drowning. Even more dangerous are those private companies that offer “Pay-To-Play” lifeguard classes which means pay for initial lifeguard training and get a summer job with that company. The problem with that is those new lifeguards only recieve up to 24 to 28 hours of training and then expected to do the job as a solo pool party lifeguard. This is a “dirty little secret” in the industry.

Many young lifeguards between the ages of 16 to 20 may not have the discipline for the job and may not take the job as seriously as their older counterparts who have chosen lifeguarding as a career.

Fourteen-year-old Danny Maracallo never came home from his class trip to a water park. He died in a pool surrounded by lifeguards.


Maracallo’s family says the young boy’s death could have been prevented since the park’s pools were supposed to be protected by experienced lifeguards.


“If lifeguards are present, and they’re doing their job properly, kids shouldn’t drown,” said the young victim’s brother, Rafael Maracallo.


Good Morning America’s consumer correspondent, Greg Hunter, says one estimate states that people drown while lifeguards are on duty more than 500 times a year.


Frank Pia, an expert in water safety who helped develop lifeguard training course materials for the American Red Cross, says it’s often clear that tragedies are just waiting to happen at some pools.


‘Recipe for Disaster’


“Lifeguards are not seated on the chairs. Lifeguards are engaging in social conversations,” Pia said. “You put all of these elements together, you have a recipe for disaster. A lifeguard is the difference between individuals coming into a facility and going home happy, or coming into a facility, leaving in an ambulance, and winding up in a coffin.”


A drowning disaster can happen quickly and quietly. In drills conducted by a lifeguard training company, Jeff Ellis and Associates, several lifeguards failed spot to see a “drowning dummy,” which is essentially a life-sized doll used to help simulate a real-life drowning incident.


The lifeguards should have rescued the dummy in 30 seconds or less, according to the training company. But some of the lifeguards caught on tape failed to see the dummy at all.


One experienced lifeguard was caught on tape as she failed to notice the drowning dummy for three minutes.
ABCNEWS agreed not to reveal the guard ‘s name. But she told producers she thought the test was fair and admitted that she didn’t notice the drowning dummy at all.


“I just missed it,” she said. When asked what that means in a real-life situation, she said, “That somebody died.”
She’s not alone. More lifeguards failed in two other videotaped drills by the Jeff Ellis lifeguard-training company. Those who fail are suspended and retrained. One of the guards seemed to know there might be something in the pool, but it took her two minutes to find it.


The training company recently studied the results of hundreds of 30-second drills at client facilities. The results showed that it took the tested lifeguards an average of one minute and 14 seconds to get to the drowning dummy. If the dummies had been real children, some would be damaged for life, or maybe even dead.


Pia says adult swimmers can usually tell if their community pool has a safe lifeguard program. He suggests that parents and babysitters trust their gut.


“In the drowning cases that I’ve investigated, parents have mentioned longstanding breaks in proper lifeguard protocol,” Pia said. “They were aware. And many of them said ‘I knew this drowning was going to occur.'”



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