We practice real-life simulation trainings at all of our in-service sessions. However, our big test came from an actual emergency — and it showed us how important practice can be.

One day this past summer, while more than 800 guests filled our aquatic complex, everything came to a halt as an unresponsive 4-year-old boy was pulled out of the water by a lifeguard and a guest. The air horn sounded, guests froze expecting to see a training mannequin, lifeguards appeared with emergency equipment, but this time it was all real.

The guards jumped into action. Fifteen were on duty that day, along with a lead lifeguard and an assistant pool manager. The responding lifeguard, along with the lifeguards on break and the assistant manager, took control of patient care. The lead lifeguard called “911” and activated the emergency medical system. One guard was to remain at each of the three pools to ensure guests would not enter the water; the remaining eight guards were tasked with clearing the pools and maintaining crowd control during the emergency.

Lifeguards quickly assessed and performed emergency care, providing CPR and oxygen to the unconscious boy. By the time emergency medical services arrived, he was conscious, had a pulse and was breathing. He was released from the hospital two days later.

When the assistant  manager stood up, he realized that a crowd of more than 300 had gathered — including the remaining eight guards. Some kids were still in the water, completely unsupervised.

Over the years, we had put emphasis on real life simulation training. However, we focused so much on the emergency — making the rescue, extrication, patient care, CPR, rescue breathing, oxygen administration and AED — that we never emphasized clearing the pool of guests, crowd control and what guards should do when not directly involved.

After evaluating and discussing our emergency action plan (EAP) and trainings with lifeguards who were involved in the emergency, it was determined that we had talked about a complete simulation, but never put it into practice for them to see and do. Having the lifeguards see and do every aspect of a simulated emergency is what gives them the confidence and preparation for the real emergency.

Our in-service trainings from that point on included all aspects of our EAP during real life simulation training. We included how guests may act and respond to the situation and how lifeguards should act throughout the entire simulation training, as well as preparation for how to interact with parents of a small child. Ultimately, we need to make sure that practice is as close to reality as possible so that when the real thing happens, we’re ready.