You could say Roy Fielding is taking the family business to a new level. At 90 years of age, his mother Jen is still teaching swimming in Cedar Falls, Iowa (there’s even a pool named in her honor there). Fielding himself is a leading force behind the industry effort to develop concrete lifeguarding standards based on proven science and best practices.

Fielding started at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, more than 30 years ago as director of aquatics. Now he’s coordinator of the university’s Exercise Science Program in the Department of Kinesiology. Prior to joining UNC Charlotte, he was one of the first official aquatics directors in Iowa.

Today he brings an academic approach to the industry, serving on two CDC Model Aquatic Health Code Technical Committees — Lifeguard and Bather Supervision, and Recirculation — as well as the American Red Cross Advisory Council for First Aid, Aquatics Safety and Preparedness.

But perhaps Fielding’s biggest contribution to the industry is just now taking shape. He has been part of the U.S. Lifeguard Standards Coalition since it was formed in 2005 as a collaborative endeavor of the American Red Cross, the United States Lifesaving Association and YMCA of the USA. Its mission is to “research, identify and promote evidence-based standards for lifeguarding and water rescue.”

As a member of the coalition, Fielding recognized the need to understand what lifeguards are really doing in the field. So in summer 2009, he launched a survey to gather the data.

“We need to survey lifeguards to find out what they’re actually doing,” he says. “How do they recognize the victim? Are they doing equipment-based rescues or not?”

The multiple choice survey, hosted by UNC Charlotte’s Department of Kinesiology (to eliminate any conflict of interest with the U.S. Lifeguard Standards Coalition), asks lifeguards about their responses to all types of water-related incidents on the job. It asks a participant for details such as conditions at the time of the rescue, the way in which the participant identified an emergency and the type of equipment used in the rescue.

Fielding plans to continue circulating the survey this year and ultimately hopes his findings will serve as one more tool that will aid the USLSC in its work determining best practices, and help answer the question “How can we make lifeguarding better?”

“I think it’s going to be eye-opening,” he says. “Beach lifeguards have been doing surveys for a long time. Pool operators need to understand that lifeguards are professional rescuers, and we’ve got to be adamant that they can do the job and give them all the skills necessary.”