The aquatics industry remains incredibly creative about ways to improve in-service training with better equipment, skill audits, and realistic drills. Rescue training equipment includes items such as AED trainers, shadow manikins, and smart CPR manikins. Skill audits assess rescuer abilities in live time. We simulate realistic features by using fake blood, whip cream for mouth foam/frothy sputum, and chunky soup for foreign body matter.
Taking this one step further, I would like to encourage you to consider the option of using children during rescue drills. In this video, Pete DeQuincy explains.
Here are some benefits of using children in lifeguard rescue drills:
- Skill retention is much stronger when skills are practiced in a real environment on a simulated victim.
- Standard rescue skills might need to be modified due to size and age of the child.
- The sense of urgency will be heightened because the victim is a child.
- Because most child rescue drills use real children, it beats a manikin for realism in scenarios.
If your agency decides to utilize children for rescue drills, here are some recommendations on how to make the experience successful for the trainer, the lifeguards and the children.
An easy way to find potential child participants is to look internally. A good source could be family members of staff, your learn-to-swim program, junior lifeguard program or your swim team. They should be long-term participants, meaning these children and their families should be comfortable with your facility and staff.
The age range should be 8-12 years old. Size and maturity will be big factors in how successful your rescue drills will be. If the child is too young and/or has issues with distraction, you may spend too much of your time coaching them on what to do and trying to keep them focused. When this happens, your lifeguards will lose focus. If the victim is too old, there’s a good chance they will either be too big or too close in maturity to your younger guards.
Consent from the child’s guardian is mandatory and should be documented on a waiver form. Take the time to explain what in-service training is, how important it is, and how crucial their son or daughter’s participation is. If a guardian is still unclear on what an in-service training entails, extending an invitation to watch from a designated area could be helpful. You need to create transparency at all times; remind staff that they should always be in a public space with the children and stay consistent with your agency’s policies.
Buy-in from the child also is mandatory. Not every child will be a good victim. The trainer must instill trust and comfort through good eye contact, simple explanations, providing the chance to show and demonstrate the rescue equipment, and possibly setting extra time prior to the training to do walk-throughs of the rescue drills and activities with the child or children.
Each child victim should have their own lifeguard/handler during the in-service training. The handler’s priority is the child’s safety and welfare. If they become too cold or are simply just done with participating in the training, it is the handler’s responsibility to inform the trainer that the child has met their limits and needs to step out of the training. The handler also must stay engaged with the child. It’s easy to get caught up in all the training activity and to not be emotionally present with the victim. Have a briefing with your handlers on expectation prior to the in-service training.
During the training, lifeguards will find that towing and carrying a child is very different than an adult. Towing is easier, and in shallow water, carrying the child by a single rescuer could be an option.
Rescuers might find that they can cradle the head of an unconscious child in the crook of the arm, children’s pulses are faster, and opening the airway probably will be difficult. Children are not usually aware that they’re resisting the rescuer when it comes to airway maneuvers. Rescuers should not force the child’s head back if they encounter resistance; also, do not seal a mask on the child’s face. As the trainer, you might need to place diving bricks on the pool bottom for your child victims to hold to stay submerged. Additionally, keep up the pace of the drill because children can’t hold their breaths as long as adults.
You will find that you may need to replace victims throughout the training. Prepare for this by having a cache of children available and close at hand to the training in a separate designated area. These children can have one staff member monitoring their status and keeping them engaged. It’s highly recommended that the in-service training be divided so that your initial child victims and the replacement cache get equal time in the water. This will increase the likelihood that all the children will want to participate in the future.
Plan in-service training knowing that child participation in rescue drills will only be a part of your training. Most in-service trainings last for hours, and young children don’t have the temperature tolerance, the engagement level, or the patience to participate for over an hour; 30-45 minutes of activity is a happy medium.
By incorporating a child rescue component in the beginning of your in-service training, the lifeguards will carry that sense of realism, urgency and teamwork throughout the rest of the training. If you put the child rescue component at the end of the in-service, you’ll have to deal with fatigue and distraction from your lifeguards.
In the end, I've found that the benefits of using children in in-service trainings outweigh the challenges. Even if you only have one enthusiastic family that can assist you, take a chance and give it a try.