River Road Park and Recreation District | Eugene, Ore.
Vicky Bird River Road Park and Recreation District | Eugene, Ore.

Goals and challenges

Lifeguards are not the only ones expected to save lives at the River Road Park and Recreation District. Building supervisors, receptionists and other support staff also are trained to lend emergency assistance.

How they did it

All 70-plus aquatic and fitness-center staffers participate in a series of realistic scenarios as part of an annual training event in preparation for the busy summer season. This includes receptionists, learn-to-swim instructors and janitorial staff, among others. Each employee has a defined role to play in a particular make-believe emergency.

The exercise has proven invaluable, equipping non-lifeguard-trained individuals with lifesaving skills that they’ve employed in at least one real-life situation this year.

On Feb. 14, a woman collapsed on the pool deck. On assessment, a guard was unable to find a pulse and initiated CPR. One of the custodial engineers realized the severity of the situation and immediately retrieved a Rapid Response Bag containing rescue equipment, while another staff member raced an AED to the scene.

Professionally trained lifesavers and support personnel worked in unison with clockwork precision, says Jeff Fryer, aquatic/fitness director. Unfortunately the woman could not be saved, but the staff at least could know they did everything possible.

The training prepares employees for even more upsetting possibilities.

In one nightmare enactment, a lifeguard stumbled into the lobby of the aquatics center with a bleeding hole through his chest — the victim of an active shooter on site. In this unfortunately all-too-plausible plot, about 60 employees posed as John and Jane Doe Public enjoying a mid-afternoon swim — sitting ducks, in other words. The remaining staffers responded with urgency, ushering everyone out of the pool and to a secure, windowless family changing room in 70 seconds.

These exercises are conducted with an emphasis on realism. A lifeguard on staff happens to be an expert in the art of moulage, or mock injuries. Lifelike wounds such as gashes and abrasions are applied to victims. Sometimes they’ll use cream of chicken to simulate vomit.

When it’s a matter of life or death, every little detail matters. That’s why some scenarios call for the male lifeguards to sport women’s bathing suits. In this exercise, rescuers learn how to snip the straps and cut down the side of the victim’s swimsuit so as to not interfere with the one who is administering  compressions. They get hands-on experience without compromising anyone’s modesty.

“I would rather have my staff experience something as real as possible in a training session first, as opposed to experiencing it for real the first time,” Fryer says.

In addition to annual cross-department training exercises, lifeguards and building supervisors are tested quarterly on basic life-support skills. And guards never know when to expect the occasional pop quiz or when they’re being videotaped or audited.

A brand-new program, two years in development, is the Professional Association Assessment. As a professional courtesy, lifeguard supervisors from various facilities agree to monitor each other’s teams, incognito, and report back with suggestions.

These unannounced assessments do not replace the popular third-party auditing services offered by brand-name lifeguard management companies. Rather, they serve as a supplement. It’s an added layer of scrutiny that helps keep guards on the top of their game.


  • Cross-department training exercises enable everyone — not just lifeguards — to respond effectively during an emergency.
  • Drills stress realism. Props and special effects are employed to make the exercises lifelike.
  • Supervisors for other facilities audit each other's teams to uncover weak spots.