Goals and challenges

In 2014, lifeguards at the Osborne Park Pool had performed 31 pull-outs — when a lifeguard is required to pull a swimmer out of the water. Staff found this to be an excessive number.

The team noticed that these pull-outs occurred in what lifeguards nicknamed the “Triangle of Death” — an area just beyond the kiddie features. Children would wade past that area toward a depth marker rope, which was near a particular ladder, says Jim Clark, program coordinator for the City of Willoughy Parks and Recreation. But then they would stumble into water depths that rapidly changed from about 3 to 4 feet. The rope had been installed on the wrong side of the ladder! People drawn there for safety would find themselves in deeper-than-expected water. Children also would jump, feet first, from a peninsula into an area they thought would be very shallow. Instead, they splashed into water that was 4 feet deep and over their heads.

The team wanted to reduce these incidents.

How they did it

Staff and management came together and introduced a four-point plan in 2015:

• The color of the depth marker was changed from standard blue/white to a bright yellow rope with red floats. The rope also was moved to the shallow side of the ladder. A red stripe was then painted on the pool floor to coincide with the marker rope location.

• New signage was purchased to address four major risks: “No Diving,” “Non-Swimmers Wear Lifejackets,” “Watch Your Child,” and “No Long Breath Holding.” Several “No Kids Alone Zone” signs also were put up to draw parents’ attention.

• Saturday swim lessons were added to the itinerary. Prior to 2015, lessons were offered sporadically, and only on weekdays. The Saturday hours gave more children an opportunity to learn to swim.

• The facility applied for and received a Note & Float grant, which provides U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. They are used by non-swimmers who have not passed the facility’s swim test.

When Clark examined data for 2015, he found the number of pull-outs had only dropped from 31 to 24. But further analysis showed that many of those were for children who were wearing life jackets but needed to be pulled out because their feet could no longer touch the bottom of the pool. “We still had to go in and get them, but they were in no danger,” said Clark. “In reality, only 14 of the 24 were in any real danger.” He notes that this resulted in a 55 percent net reduction of pull-outs.