Winter is an excellent season
to polish lifeguarding skills and to brush up on some of the more
challenging aspects of the job.
Just make sure patron surveillance is not compromised if drills are
held while the facility is open to the public. Lifeguards on duty
must not be distracted from their primary responsibility.
Here are six drills to work on during the off-season.
1. Backboarding. High on the list of technical
skills is a lifeguard team’s ability to backboard a potential
spinal injury victim. This skill must be practiced in each pool or
attraction where spinal injury can occur. The wise aquatics
facility director also will practice this drill in a dry-land
setting if the design of the facility suggests that patrons may
fall while ascending or descending stairs, or traversing
high-traffic areas where slippery surfaces are known to
Each lifeguard should be required to perform all the
backboarding skills from every position (head, feet, side). Drills
should be run in shallow-water play pools, where maintaining inline
stabilization can prove particularly challenging while maneuvering
a backboard underneath a person resting on, or nearly on, the
bottom of the pool.
Likewise, if diving wells exist, deep-water backboarding skills
must be tested and perfected by every member of your lifeguarding
staff. Backboarding in deep water takes more endurance, so this is
a good skill to use to help determine if your lifeguards are
maintaining an adequate fitness level to perform their duties.
Slide run-outs present a particular challenge, and lifeguards
must have the opportunity to repeatedly and successfully backboard
potential spinal victims who wind up in this narrow channel at the
bottom of a water slide.
It’s equally important that guards play the victim and
rescuer. Experiencing backboarding from the victim’s
perspective will help lifeguards hone their in-line spinal
2. Victim recognition. Winter also is a good
time to work on victim recognition and response. Follow the
guidelines established by your training organization American Red Cross,
Ellis and Associates, StarGuard and the like). See that your lifeguards
possess the necessary skills to scan effectively and respond to
emergency situations in an appropriate and timely manner.
Reinforce use of the facility’s emergency action plan and
practice each step, from alerting others to an emergency in the
pool area to properly filling out incident reports. Make sure to
simulate active and passive drowning victims, as well as floating
and submerged victims.
Don’t assume that if your lifeguards recognize and respond
well to an active drowning victim on the surface, they will perform
well when faced with a passive submerged victim. Test this to
ensure that they can quickly recognize and respond to anyone who
may be in trouble.
3. CPR/AED. As facilities adopt AEDs into their
emergency protocols, use of this equipment must be practiced in
coordination with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. While the AED will
prompt lifeguards through the necessary steps, following the
directions during a highly charged real-life emergency will prove
challenging unless your guards have had the opportunity to
internalize these practices through constant review.
Require all the lifeguards to practice every role as part of an
emergency response team. At the end of the drill, remember to
replace any supplies used, and train the guards to check emergency
equipment at the beginning of each of their shifts to confirm that
all pieces are in place and working properly.
4. Emergency oxygen. Lifeguards should review
the procedures for using supplemental oxygen. The flow rate differs
based on the selected delivery system (bag valve mask, nasal
cannula and so forth).
Instruct your lifeguards to check for flow before placing an
oxygen mask onto a victim’s face. This critical step can be
lost in the rush of an actual emergency if not regularly practiced
during in-service training.
Also, review emergency training material so the staff knows
which piece of oxygen delivery equipment should be used in each
type of emergency situation.
5. Disease transmission prevention. When was
the last time your lifeguard team actually practiced responding to
a “Code Brown”? Do they know that the scoop used to
remove the poop has to be decontaminated along with all other
equipment used in the process? The steps to be followed in a fecal
release are outlined at Center for Disease Control’s Healthy
Swimming Website. Download and review the “Water
Contamination Response Log” with your lifeguard team. Check
to see that they know how to document their response to a fecal
6. Murphy’s Law. Though well-trained
lifeguards justifiably take pride in knowing that all their
incident response equipment is stocked, fully charged and ready to
go in an emergency, it’s wise to train for those foreseeable
events that even the most proactive lifeguard can’t prevent
— such as power outages or inoperable telephone lines.
During training drills, throw your team a curveball and require
them to respond as if the facility has lost power or their standard
communication channels. Watch and learn as your safety team
improvises, then make their best creative actions part of your
facility’s backup plan.
Share your insights with the organization that certifies your
lifeguards. It will contribute to the continued development of
emergency response training in the aquatics industry.