A Tragic Story – Know Who You Hire!

It was six years or so ago that our office received a phone call from a local school event organizer right here in the San Fernando Valley inquiring about our private pool party lifeguard services for an upcoming school sanctioned pool event. It was communicated to us that there would be anywhere from 25 to 50 swimmers at this particular event.

As we talked to the organizer, we sensed that she was holding something back and from our experience we surmised it had to do with something that happened to her or someone she knew. At this point we felt it was best to get her on the phone with our lifeguard chief who has a lifetime of experience dealing with such calls and dealing with people who have been through traumatic experiences. Our intuition proved to be right on the money!

As our chief spoke with the organizer, he discovered a tragic story that should have never had happened. It is our hope in sharing this story that those considering hiring any lifeguards for their events know what to look for and how to avoid a tragedy that could otherwise be prevented.

Prior to contracting us for their 2nd annual school family day festival they had hired another local company (North Valley Swim) for their 1st annual event. They had requested two lifeguards for the event and were assured that they would be pleased with the lifeguard services. Everything seemed to be in order and set to go.

On the day of the event as families poured in, many were anxiously awaiting the use of the pool which was locked because the lifeguards were late and did not show up at their mutually accepted call time. The lifeguards eventually showed up however they were unapologetic and very young. With no other alternative, the organizer allowed them to stay and watch the pool although she was already quite unhappy with them. Within the first hour of the event she noticed that the two lifeguards were rather inattentive to the swimmers and were sitting in chairs. They did not look like they wanted to be there. She also noticed and was told by others that one of the lifeguards on the shallow side of the pool seemed to be nodding off. At this point she had to decide what to do and had tried to find a willing parent to watch the kids in the pool. It was during this brief moment in time when things turned tragic.

A small child swimming in the shallow end of the pool closest to the lifeguard nodding off became a victim of a non-fatal drowning. This child was on the steps playing when all of a sudden they were drawn away from the steps. The child did not know how to swim. A bystander happened to noticed the child under the water line and not moving when they sprung into action. The lifeguards did not know what was going on until it was too late. 911 was called prompting a rather large and swift response by LAFD and LAPD to the school. Shortly after the child was transported in critical condition an investigation was launched. It was discovered that the lifeguard nodding off was out the previous night partying and drinking to excess. He was still very much hung over and it was learned that he had slept in his car at the school parking lot before reporting to the pool. The second lifeguard sitting in his chair was also oblivious to the drowning child and never once moved from his chair. Blame must also be allocated to the child’s parents as well for not supervising their child but we are more concerned with the lifeguard’s performance or lack thereof.

The child was transported to a local hospital where he was stabilized however the outcome and prognosis is that the child will be subject to supportive care for the rest of his life with no quality of life as a result of the inaction of the lifeguards.

Anyone considering hiring private lifeguards should always do their homework and should always ask hard questions to ensure that the lifeguards are qualified and professional. If for any reason you are not comfortable or have any reservations about the lifeguards ability to perform the job, you need to act on that intuition immediately. A phone call should have been made to the company office demanding other lifeguards or the pool should have been shut down due to concerns. Not all lifeguard companies operate at the highest levels and it also should be noted that most do not properly background or skills check their lifeguards. Most will only conduct phone interviews and then lifeguards are added to a roster.

Some sample questions you should ask:

  • How long has the company been in business?
  • How well trained are the lifeguards?
  • Ask for proof of lifeguard certifications?
  • Can I talk to the lifeguards prior to the event?
  • What is the owner’s background?
  • Ask for references!

If you have a story you would like to share, please email us at info@goldenstatelifeguards.com

For those interested in having Chief Castillo speak at your event or media inquiries, ecastillo@goldenstatelifeguards.com

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