Back in the mid-1980s, I was asked to develop and implement a K-12 swim lessons program for the school system.
Because it was a new program, school personnel and parents stopped by regularly to observe lessons from the bleachers at the shallow end. Being a young, inexperienced aquatics professional, it never dawned on me to place a barrier between the bleachers and the pool — an oversight I’d soon come to regret.
One cold morning, a group of parents showed up to watch their first graders. Several Board of Education members also were there. It was our program’s chance to shine.
Suddenly, one of the mothers, who was dressed to the nines, came flying out of the bleachers and jumped in the pool — heels, skirt and all. As I stood trying to figure out what she was doing, I saw my top instructor with a horrified look on his face helping a youngster to the wall. As it turned out, the instructor was helping his class learn to bob. The mother interpreted this as her child drowning.
Though the situation turned out well (the mother never showed her face at the pool again, however), a simple barrier and a little education could have gone a long way in preventing this embarrassing and potentially dangerous incident.
My staff and I now speak to parents prior to every lesson, and explain that they should stay in the bleachers so we can do our jobs uninterrupted. This is made much easier in the facility where I currently work because the bleachers are raised 7 feet off the deck and surrounded by a stainless steel railing. Some wise person before me even had the foresight to have additional balusters installed in the railing so that rather than a yard between balusters (which met the building codes at the time the pool was built) we now have 12 inches.
Recently, we had another group of parents in the bleachers observing lessons, videotaping and taking pictures as the last lesson of the session came to an end. While the instructors were getting their classes out of the water and we were preparing to hand out cards, we heard a scream. Several of my staff members and I observed a woman tumble down the flight of cement steps all the way from the top and land against the balusters.
Once the incident had been managed and everyone was OK, I discussed it with the staff. One of the crew observed that if we hadn’t had the additional balusters in the railing, the woman most likely would have fallen through and landed on the pool deck with serious injuries.
This got me thinking, what else could I do to make the facility safer? Because my focus had been on the pool deck area, I had never given much thought to the bleacher space or other adjoining areas. With the pool maintenance person in tow, we performed a safety inspection of the entire area and ended up making several upgrades to improve safety.