Pool death 'such a shock'

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Each year, nearly 1,500 children drown in the U.S. As we all know, a drowning can occur nearly anywhere. Yet, the natural inclination is to believe that one will not happen in our own community, especially at our own camp. Awareness of the threat's reality is critical. Reinforcing proven prevention strategies is an essential element in protecting the kids in our programs. Both are the goals for our “Aquatic Alert” program. Each is a brief treatment of the topic, focusing on a real, recent, public event gleaned from the media… reprinting the published article in its entirety (omitting names and identifying references to the organization) and providing a few important teaching points for you to share with your staff. As always, if you need additional guidance on this topic, please call us at 800-463-8546.


“Pool death 'such a shock'”

SMALL MIDWEST CITY: August 13, 2002 - The Family members recall [victim] as a sports enthusiast with a taste for deep-fried fish and a passion for helping the mentally ill.

The 36-year-old man drowned Monday at [name] Water Park in [town]. It apparently took only a few seconds for [victim] to take water into his lungs near the shallow end of the city-owned wave pool, police investigators and park authorities say. [Victim] died about 12:30 p.m. Monday at [name] hospital when efforts to resuscitate him failed. An autopsy confirmed the cause of death. “It's such a shock. It's hard to think right now,” said his father. “He was a good swimmer.”

[Victim] was visiting the park, with a group from [name] Behavioral Health, a County-based mental health agency that serves people with emotional disorders, developmental disabilities, and severe mental illness.

[Victim] had made significant progress since a battle with major depression about 15 years ago, his father said. [Victim] lived on his own and worked at the Red Lobster in [name] City. [Victim] stayed active with the agency as a liaison of sorts between clients and staff. “He really cared about what he did,” he father said. “He was very outgoing with a big heart.”

A group chaperone at the scene said the agency's clients were celebrating a year of progress in their treatment with a summer outing and picnic. Officials from the agency declined further comment. [Victim] was among five or six people in the wave pool when he went under in about five feet of water, said [name], president and chief executive officer of the YMCA, which runs city recreation programs. Four lifeguards were watching the pool, he said. “They were watching him,” he said. “He had been swimming and had just stood up in the shallow end. He suddenly began to have problems.” Lifeguards immediately came to his rescue, he said.

“A wave kind of took him under,” said Deputy Police [name]. “At that time, he started struggling. It was immediate response. At least three of the lifeguards went in the water.”

Minutes later, [victim] lay limp as lifeguards and emergency crews fought to bring him back, said [witness]. She was at the park with her three children, 14 months to 8. “He wasn't moving,” she said. “They were working on him in the pool for a long time.”

Park staff who were on duty during the drowning received an afternoon counseling session, YMCA said. None of the lifeguards was available for comment. “We've been told by the police and fire department that they handled it quite professionally and there's nothing they could have done,” [YMCA Executive Director] said. “You still feel awful.” The water park remained closed the rest of the day. It was to open at 11 a.m. today and remain open until 7 p.m. to resume normal hours. No other deaths have occurred at the pool, said [city manager].

[Victim] followed every major sports league and showed a “heart of gold” when somebody he knew needed help, his father said. “He loved fishing and loved sports,” he said. “He just loved his bowling. That's one thing he lived for. He always outdid me.” [Victim] was famous for sharing his latest recipe with his mom and dad. “He prepared lots of dishes – chicken, lasagnas, the whole works,” his father said. “He loved fish.”


What we know:

  • this tragedy occurred during a special event involving a special-needs group
  • the victim was an adult who was in water shallow enough for him to stand
  • wave action apparently either initiated or aggravated the situation
  • the lifeguard presence was high (4) compared to the bather load (5-6 other swimmers)
  • lifeguard response reportedly was immediate and extensive (3 guards hit the water)
  • CPR was given but was ineffective
  • Guards “worked on” the victim in the pool “for a long time”
  • the organization operated the pool under a collaboration agreement with the city

What we don’t know:

  • the real cause of the problem… the report has seemingly conflicting statements:

    • “He…had just stood up [sic] in the shallow end. He suddenly began to have problems.”
    • “…he went under in about five feet of water…”
    • “A wave kind of took him under…At that time, he started struggling”
  • what went wrong with the rescue…e.g.,

    • guard-to-swimmer ratio, vigilance, response were apparently good…
    • CPR was administered, but was ineffectual (did his body just fail to respond, or was compression adequacy compromised by improper hand placement or insufficient depth, or was the airway inadequately opened…?)
    • Did the guards really try to administer CPR in the water? An initial rescue breath can be administered in the water, but locating a pulse and administering effective chest compressions would be virtually impossible while a victim is in the water.

What we must remember:

  • swimming pools of any type need constant vigilance–the basic standards of care always apply (see our website for several aquatic RMAs and RMTs, especially Lifeguarding: an inviolate primer)

  • wave pools, slides, and inflatable devices require special guarding techniques including specific knowledge of the irregularities or added dangers introduced by the device, additional guards or “eyes-on-deck”, and careful adherence to all rules and protocols, especially testing, marking, and protecting users

  • a drowning can occur at any time, even with experienced, older swimmers

  • special groups always require special attention (see also Boy drowns at YMCA during summer school field trip on our website)

  • collaborative agreements can greatly increase your exposure to loss; since your association will be responsible for any occurrence, make sure your agreement is such that:

    • your rules, not theirs, govern behavior
    • your guards have full pool deck authority, including swimmer ejection and pool closure
    • a fail-safe emergency summons system exists and is regularly practiced/tested
    • all necessary lifesaving equipment is present whenever the pool is open (whether provided by the pool or you)
    • the pool owner specifically accepts responsibility for any physical deficiencies in the pool or attendant structures or equipment (including maintenance issues unless those are under your control)

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about Camps risk management issues.

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