By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
NORTHUMBERLAND — The near-drowning of a 5-year-old Wednesday night in Mifflinburg brought to light how important it is to keep a vigilant eye out when children are swimming and playing with friends — especially in a crowded community pool where there may be a large number of people bouncing around.
Another swimmer may see a problem long before a lifeguard would.
Rebecca Kline should know.
Kline, manager at Liberty Splashland, Northumberland, has 20 years of experience as a lifeguard and is responsible for training the facility’s lifeguards.
“As a parent, when you’re at a public pool — or even at your own backyard pool — the key thing to remember is to always know where your child is and what they are doing,” she said. “Be observant.”
The majority of patrons at Splashland have children between elementary and middle school age.
Jonathan Ruths, head lifeguard at Splashland, said, “With younger kids, any child that needs flotation devices to be in the pool, we require an adult to be within arm’s reach of that child, for safety purposes.”
Kline and Ruths listed a few things to watch for when children are in a pool.
“Visually,” Ruths said, “if you see someone with their head laying back, trying to say afloat, that’s an indication that something might be wrong. Sometimes, you’ll have kids who are clinging to the side of the pool. ... We’re trained, if you see that, to keep an eye on those kids because they probably can’t touch the bottom and probably don’t feel comfortable in the deeper waters. It is a lot about visualization.”
But you also have to listen for auditory clues. Most times, there will be distress signals, like a child yelling for help or screaming, “I can’t swim.”
“You can’t always trust water wings or life jackets,” Kline said. “Both can be a hazard if someone is struggling to stay afloat. Watch for kids at horseplay. They’ll dunk each other. Or they’ll play games like who can hold their breath the longest under water. There is the potential there for problems, a potential for shallow water blackouts.”
At Splashland, Kline is constantly training her lifeguards, to the point where she will stage mock drownings.
“Our lifeguards have to be prepared at all times for any eventuality,” she said. “So we’ll have spot checks, with fake victims and ask our lifeguards to react to the various scenarios. We do in-service training once a month, and our lifeguards have to understand first aid and CPR.”
Kline recommends teaching kids how to swim at an early age.
Splashland holds regular swimming classes during the year as do local YMCAs.
“They even have water baby classes,” she said. “If you can learn at an early age to respect the water and understand safety practices, then your time in the pool will always be an enjoyable one.”