Pool safety for Heidi Powell at Boise State University starts at the hiring process. As the coordinator of aquatics and safety, Powell explained that the lifeguards on duty at the school’s aquatic center are the ones educating patrons on best practices in the pool.
From the get go, it’s essential to have lifeguards who are qualified. “Part of the interview process is a pretty in-depth skills evaluation as well,” said Powell. “Just because someone comes in with a little card that says they’re lifeguard certified, that doesn’t mean they’re up to par on those skills.”
But it’s also about keeping the topic of pool safety top-of-mind. Every month, Powell holds two in-services for her lifeguards. One is with the entire lifeguard staff. The other involves only six or seven lifeguards practicing their skills. With both, Powell looks to deliver fresh information in order to keep them engaged.
“I tried to make these practice sessions more of a creative opportunity, so we incorporate races and games and things that they’re still practicing their skills within, but they’re also experiencing team building and having some fun with each other,” explained Powell. “It makes it more meaningful to them.”
At the University of New Hampshire, Jennifer Malone, the aquatics coordinator, said they hold a yearly lifeguard Olympics in order to engage staff in pool safety practices. Lifeguards are divided into teams of six to compete in various races and events, like the CPR challenge. The Olympics-style training’s goal is to keep lifeguards fully engaged. Malone also explained by putting staff in a competitive setting, it simulates more of a real-life emergency. “They don’t have time to think about what to do,” she explained.
But training for pool safety optimization doesn’t stop at an aquatics center’s lifeguards. Benjamin Pazian, the aquatics graduate assistant at the University of South Florida, is a certified Red Cross Training Instructor. Every year or so, he has to pursue more training. “I’m constantly in this training process myself,” he said.
Plus, both Pazian and Al Gentilini, the assistant director of aquatics, are certified pool operators. By teaming up with Florida Aquatics, they are able to offer the Certified Pool Operator certification about three times a year to students and staff. They will also offer the Red Cross Training Instructor course. “Our students are getting more advanced certifications and getting involved and taking ownership of the pool,” said Gentilini. By giving staff a sense of ownership, he has seen students become passionate about the aquatics center and pool safety.
Beyond education for lifeguards, Pazian said pool safety has a lot to do with communication. If someone asks one of the lifeguards why a rule is in place, Pazian wants the staff to be able to give an educated answer.
Powell agreed. “It’s important to always have rules and policies posted where it’s clear for patrons to view, but most importantly is to have great front-line staff that are trained up and ready to go in any type of emergency, and are also educating your patrons on those regular water safety rules,” she said.
Finally, Gentinili advised it’s essential to be proactive. Over the past year, he explained Pazian has helped implement new procedures and systems, like making it mandatory to have two lifeguards on deck. Before, the center only had one lifeguard on duty. However, Pazian said with the way the pool was designed, having one lifeguard assist a passive victim or someone with a spinal injury would have been nearly impossible.
Ultimately, the need for vigilance when it comes to pool safety never diminishes. Powell explained they are always addressing items in order to keep their pool up to health and safety guidelines. “There is never a time where we say, ‘OK, everything is good. We don’t need to look at the pool for awhile,’” she said. “It’s continuous.”