The supervisors were befuddled. There were signs everywhere. We gave swim tests. The Lily Pad Pool lifeguard stopped tiny children from entering the Twister Tunnel before it was too late. Our efforts increased the safety of children 42 inches or taller who wanted to brave the Twister Tunnel at Notchville Park.
Yet water rescue reports for the 6-foot-deep catch pool were still higher than we would like. Something was missing. After categorizing age groups and swim levels of the rescuees, the answer was staring at us. This is what we found: adults made up slightly more than half of the rescues.
But why? The catch pool depth was clearly marked. The rules sign clearly stated “Strong Swimmers Only”. Lifeguards constantly communicated the rules. After sitting around a picnic table talking about the issue, throwing out all sorts of wild ideas, we decided to go ride the slide.
Notchville Park is built into a hillside, and had four terraces with a pool on each. The Twister Tunnel’s entrance is on the top terrace, and the catch pool is on the upper middle terrace. The supervisors and I walked up the stairs to the top terrace and waited our turn in line. We looked around the area and talked to the guests, joking about the perks of the job and asking questions about their vacation. We made sure to observe their behavior as they walked up the final set of stairs to the maw of the tunnel.
After three rides each, we began to see similarities in how people approached and entered the slide. After the fourth time, we headed back to the picnic table and shared observations. Then we talked about how we could communicate the difficulty level of the ride with better success.
When people approached the slide, they were happy, wet, slightly uncomfortable and chatting with their friends. They weren’t paying attention to the standard signs. They were looking at their kids who were excited to get Mom or Dad on the slide, or their adults friends who told them it wasn’t such a big deal, or down at the catch pool that is quite small, only one or two strokes to the edge.
But when they entered the gate and stood up to the slide entrance, their attention was on the dark tunnel. There was no distraction; this was our time to get out the message.
We developed a sign to fit at the entrance, hoping to capture the attention of each rider. It’s a picture of a slide flowing into a catch pool. Standing in the catch pool is an adult with their head clearly just beneath the surface of the water. Large letters below state, “6 FEET DEEP.” We thought maybe the picture and the addition of the word DEEP would be an added deterrent to those about to take the final plunge.
We put up the sign and held our collective breath. Time would tell. After a month passed, we reviewed the data and found success. The overall number of rescues was down, and especially that of adults! And all we had to do was ride the slide to find the solution. This is something we should all remember, especially on the hottest of days.
1) Document all rescues. Use the data to create categories, and use categories to look for trends.
2) Experience the point of view. The best way to investigate a problem is to learn all points of view.
3) Use observations from your experience to help to find solutions. Choose one, and try it. If it doesn’t work, use what you’ve learned to try another.
Tara Snow is aquatics assistant manager at Smugglers’ Notch Resort. She is a lifeguard instructor and Certified Pool Operator. Snow is responsible for hiring, training and managing a staff of 20 to 100 aquatics professionals, depending on the season.