Imagine the worst case scenario at an aquatics facility. If
you’re like most professionals, that probably ends with a
Now imagine it gets worse. Imagine that the drowning victim
wasn’t found by your lifeguards in a reasonable amount of
time. In fact, the victim wasn’t found until two days later!
And the people who discovered it were a bunch of kids who had
jumped the fence after hours, not anyone on your staff.
An investigation starts to show the reasons why: Your water was so
cloudy you couldn’t see the bottom. Your facility
wasn’t staffed properly. Your lifeguards’ training is
questionable. And you’re out of a job. Quite possibly, more
serious consequences await.
Unless you’ve been living under an aquatic rock lately (and
because this happened at the height of the swim season, perhaps you
have been), you know this is no imaginary story. This nightmare
really happened in Fall River, Mass. Our news story gives all the latest details.
Every professional needs to read it, study it, take it to
Unfortunately, this tragedy is only the worst example of a
disturbing trend I’ve noticed as I track drowning headlines
from around the world. The trend is lifeguards not only failing to
rescue the drowning victim, but also missing the victim until a
swimmer happens upon the body. I counted at least a dozen such
stories just in the past few weeks — which, not
coincidentally, was at the height of the heat wave that gripped
most of the nation in July. All of these incidents happened at
public aquatics facilities, not open-water beaches.
Don’t get me wrong. I know the majority of lifeguards,
managers and supervisors are doing their jobs, getting the
necessary training and remaining vigilant. Most saves don’t
make headlines; they’re just what people expect.
Lifeguards often are unsung heroes.
But the drowning at Fall River and the spate of related headlines
sully the entire industry. Thanks to the Internet and the 24-hour
news cycle, what happens in Peoria doesn’t just stay in
Peoria. The Fall River drowning made headlines around the world,
mainly due to its gruesome nature. When people read such stories,
they question the safety of facilities everywhere. They also wonder
about the lifeguards they see at their facilities. Maybe their
buddy was right — maybe we do pay those guards too much for
just sitting in the sun.
Such an argument recently was used against Newport, Calif., beach
lifeguards — some of the best-trained in the world. They lost
50 percent of their pensions and have to pay more than double what
they were, just to keep them.
In a time of such budget uncertainty, the last thing we need is the
public questioning the value of aquatics. At the same time, with
budgets so tight, it’s harder than ever to ensure that guards
are receiving the proper training, or that facilities are even
So it’s time to ask yourself: Could the nightmare that
happened at Fall River happen at your facility? Are you doing all
that you can to train your lifeguards and hone their skills? If you
were ever under investigation for a tragedy, would you be able to
defend your facility, your staff, yourself?
Then imagine trying to live with the consequences of not being sure
of those answers until it’s too late.