Risk Reporter for Camps and Conference Centers
Spring 2015 Vol. 9, Issue 1
Effective lifeguard training goes beyond certification
Roughly 10 people accidentally drown every day — and two of the victims are 14 or younger.1 “You never get over a death at your camp,” said Terri Lees, a vetted member of the Aquatic Subcouncil of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council who helped create the United States Lifeguard Standards.
The following can help minimize the risk of a swimming-related tragedy.
Hire an experienced lifeguard manager. “Your lifeguards must be evaluated, hired, trained and managed by a skilled lifeguard who’s a proficient trainer and supervisor,” Lees said.
Create a lifeguarding plan. “Each camp venue is unique,” Lees said. “Have a plan that’s specific to yours and hire and train based on it.”
Recognize and address the inherent challenges of beaches. “Beaches require a lot more underwater swimming, strength and endurance,” Lees said. “You might have to run the length of the beach, swim out and surface dive — often multiple times — and be comfortable searching in murky water.”
Require certification . . . but don’t stop there. There are four typical certification programs for lifeguards: Red Cross, YMCA, Ellis & Associates and StarGuard. Camps tend to use the first two. “Your lifeguards should all be certified, certainly. This establishes they’ve gone through the training steps, but it simply means they were able to perform the required skills on test day,” Lees said. “You need to test them too.”
Try to assess prospects’ mindsets in a crisis. “None of us know how we’d act in a crisis until it happens,” Lees said. “Talk to prospects about emergency situations and how they dealt with it. You want someone whose reaction is to go toward danger — not away from it.”
Conduct initial and ongoing training. “Ideally, I like to see three days of aquatic training before camp starts to ensure lifeguards have venue-specific skills — provide remediation if necessary — know the camp’s emergency action plan and have exceptional CPR skills,” Lees said.
Continue training throughout the season. “It takes an amazing amount of strength and energy to swim out, bring a drowning casualty in and perform CPR,” Lees said. “Keep working with lifeguards to ensure they have the strength and skills they need. Focus on leg strength, core strength and endurance.”
Resources: These two documents are invaluable: Lifeguard Standards, available at http://lifeguardstandards.org/index.php?pg=final_report, and the Model Aquatic Health Code, found at http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/mahc/.