Jim Wheeler is tired of saying the right thing. The recreation services manager for San Francisco Recreation & Parks stirred the water at the Athletic Business Conference on Friday when he proclaimed: "Nobody should drown in a lifeguarded pool."
Speaking with a T-shirt draped in front of his podium that read "You're Either A Lifeguard or You're Not," Wheeler admitted that some people may think he's nuts; some drownings are inevitable, they claim. "It may be controversial, but at this point I'm tired of being politically correct," said Wheeler, who also runs the Richmond, Calif.-based consulting company Total Aquatic Management. "If you do all 10 of these - and they're not easy - I firmly believe that no one will drown in a lifeguarded pool."
Any lapse, though, and Wheeler's guarantee is invalid.
Here are his 10 steps to no drowning in a lifeguarded pool:
1. Provide back-to-basics training - including treading water and swimming, practicing active and unresponsive victim rescues, spinal-cord management, understanding of first aid and AED use, and professionalism.
2. Practice layered lifeguard protection, meaning that two rookies should never be stationed next to each other.
3. Encourage active supervision, which, in turn, encourages lifeguards to think twice before shirking their responsibilities. As Wheeler says, people behave better when they are being watched.
4. Train lifeguards in the so-called "One Minute - Two Minute Response and Care Objective." Essentially, what this means is that within one minute, lifeguards need to see and retrieve their victim, and within two minutes, they need to move the victim to safety, administer oxygen and use an AED.
5. Have an AED and oxygen available at your facility. This is the standard of care for lifeguarded facilities. Wheeler suggests cash-strapped organizations apply for grants or ask for donations of used AEDs from local fire departments.
6. Adhere to "performance-based lifeguard development." Have clear performance expectations, know each lifeguard's performance vulnerabilities and develop training that incorporates performance enhancers.
7. Teach "when in doubt, check it out" or "if you don't know, go." Sometimes a lifeguard who spent months without a single rescue attempt might find it hard to believe a swimmer is in trouble, so second-guessing can occur, Wheeler says. Look for a "smudge of paint" on the bottom of the pool, he suggest, representing a swimsuit.
8. Practice aquatic zone defense by encouraging lifeguards to defend their zones and take pride in their territory.
9. Perform audits - even if that means videotaping lifeguards from your car, the bushes or through the blinds of your office window. Then fix what is wrong -- such as banning lifeguards from texting -- and refuse to tolerate poor performance.
10. Pay lifeguards what they are worth, meaning at least what local fast-food restaurants or retail chains pay. "I know there's no money right now, but you have to do that," Wheeler says. "You get what you pay for."