Credit: American Red Cross
Credit: American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is entering a new arena.

The organization’s Aquatic Attraction Lifeguarding program will debut in January and is the first to emphasize extreme shallow water rescue.

“As we look at the ever expanding extreme shallow water parks and pools that are around three feet and less, and as we look at our rescues and skills in our other courses, those are mainly geared at swimming rescues … so we needed to develop some skills for that specific environment,” said Stephanie Shook, American Red Cross senior product manager of aquatics and the national director of the aquatic exam service.

The 22.5-hour course will cover rescues in winding rivers, catch pools, slide run-outs, water play areas and slide dispatch.

A major influence in the creation of the program was the newly released Model Aquatic Health Code, Shook explained. In particular is its outline regarding the necessary use of a rescue tube. While the code does not mandate their use in extreme shallow water, it does address when a lifeguard must wear it on their person versus when it needs to be available immediately, she said.

If a lifeguard is in three feet of water or higher then he or she must be wearing the rescue tube because it may be needed during a swim rescue. However, in less than three feet of water, the rescue tube would not be required, she explained.

“We found that pools and parks that had lifeguards standing in even one foot of water, say the bottom of a catch slide that was extremely shallow, the rescue tube was in the way so they weren’t wearing it any way,” she said.

Another key segment the organization hopes to address with this program is slide dispatch, a role the industry has debated over the years.

In some cases, those individuals working at the top are “dry” and although they have CPR training they are not certified lifeguards. This course would allow a facility to have a position that is trained in lifeguarding while also having the same consistent training in CPR and first aid as other lifeguards that might work in the deeper part of the park, Shook said.

An interest from partners, including amusement giant SeaWorld, also played a role in the development of the course. In fact, the Orlando, Fla.-based firm worked in tandem with the Red Cross over the last year and contributed to the new industry benchmarks. Under Red Cross guidelines, lifeguard instructors and instructor trainers from two of the company’s waterparks conducted pilot courses in the summer of 2014. SeaWorld plans to introduce the course as part of its 2015 operations training.

“This certification allows lifeguards to concentrate their continued training on situations specific to shallow water attractions while continuing to demonstrate high proficiency in patron surveillance, accident prevention and emergency response,” said Jim Costello, Director of Operations, Water Country USA.

The end result is a program that incorporates rescue methods borrowed from the Red Cross Waterpark Skills add-on module, along with new drills.

Some of the drills include a simple assist from any direction; handling passive victims who are either on the surface or submerged; and removal of an unconscious victim from the water on a backboard. First aid training will place emphasis on caring for head, neck and spinal injuries that could be common in extreme shallow water accidents.

With these specific skills, the Red Cross hopes the program will allow waterparks and recreation areas to hire more qualified people, Shook said.

The Red Cross currently is putting the finishing touches on the manual, videos and other resources. The cost to the facility per lifeguard is $35.