One of the nation’s largest lifeguard certification agencies has stopped teaching a controversial drowning rescue technique that critics alleged was ineffective and potentially dangerous.
The National Aquatic Safety Co. has long championed the Heimlich maneuver as an effective way to remove water from the lungs before initiating CPR on a drowning victim. Developed in the mid ’90s by NASCO founder John Hunsucker, the drowning-rescue version of the Heimlich called for the lifeguard to first administer abdominal thrusts on a drowning victim in the water before extrication for CPR.
The technique came under intense scrutiny in recent years as aquatic and medical professionals called the practice into question, claiming that it was ineffective and that it could further endanger those in need of rescue.
Despite the criticism and the headlines in the mainstream media, NASCO stuck to its guns, even after the Heimlich Institute stopped advocating that the maneuver be used to treat drowning victims in 2012.
It appears, however, that the Dickinson, Texas-based firm has finally conformed to more standard first-aid practices. According to an article in the Houston Press, NASCO does not include the technique in its most recent training manual.
GAME OVER: After decades of putting swimmers at risk, Houston lifeguard company drops "Heimlich for drowning" https://t.co/zzwEXJYfli
— Peter M. Heimlich (@medfraud_pmh) January 27, 2016
Hunsucker explained to the Houston newspaper that the firm has established a new metric of 35 seconds to perform rescues.
“In order to accomplish this time, we removed the abdominal thrust from our in-the-water intervention,” he told the Houston Press.
Another development may have forced the decision: In recent years, health departments in New Jersey, Utah and Nevada, threatened to strip NASCO of its certification to to do business in those states unless it stopped teaching the Heimlich as part of its drowning rescue protocol, according to local media reports.
“Presumably, NASCO finally dumped the protocol because it was affecting their bottom line,” said Peter Heimlich, son of inventor Dr. Henry Heimlich, and the most outspoken critic of using the maneuver to address drowning, in a statement to AI.
Hunsucker declined to comment for this article.
Some view NASCO’s decision to abandon the practice a victory of sorts for the aquatics industry, believing that visitors at NASCO-guarded facilities were receiving substandard care.
Last US lifeguard training company teaching Heimlich maneuver for drowning capitulates https://t.co/m24GCymzQu
— Chris Brewster (@uslifesaver) January 28, 2016
“It’s a good thing going forward, but when you consider the number of years this has continued … it’s a good outcome but a sad process,” said B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association.
For its part, NASCO has long maintained that facilities under its care have a fatality rate of 0.00635 per 100,000 guests. That compares favorably with an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which pegs the average number of drowning deaths at swimming pools at 0.6 per 100,000 guests. (Critics, however, have challenged how NASCO derived this data.)
As for Heimlich and his wife, Karen, who’ve been on a crusade to dissuade the public from using his father’s technique, this is chapter they’re relieved to see closed. It’s believed NASCO was the last such agency to perform what many considered an ill-advised rescue maneuver.
“I doubt there is another company reckless enough to take it up,” he stated, “so this likely ends my father’s bizarre 40-year campaign to promote the treatment.”