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My very opinionated view on lifeguarding

Remember what the “Guard” means in Lifeguard


A person or group that protects, watches over, restrains, or controls somebody or something.

To protect somebody or something against danger or loss by being vigilant and taking defensive measures. 

It still blows my mind when I see inattentive Lifeguards going about their work as if nothing could possibly go wrong. I mean, something happens in pools every day and yet a significant minority of Lifeguards don’t get it.

The cornerstone of Lifeguarding is and will always be prevention. Prevention has many elements one of being surveillance. If you’re not engaged in constant surveillance – always watching to the best of your ability – you’re going to miss something. Once an event has happened, it’s generally easy to detect; had the Lifeguard being paying closer attention, they may have noticed the event unfold or materialize before it became critical – that is what preventive Lifeguarding is all about. Some things happen so fast, such as a toddler bolting out of a change room, that an inattentive guard could miss everything.

Effective surveillance means being three things:


Quick to notice and respond to potential danger or problems


Keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties


Paying close attention

Lifeguards can’t be alert, vigilant , or attentive if they are engaged in unnecessary distractions such as socializing, or trying to combine maintenance, and guarding.

What’s even more confounding is that research clearly shows that multitasking is at best inefficient and at worst dangerous for those occupations that require single focus. And yet, some guards defy this logic and claim they can handle multiple tasks while lifeguarding.  When the day comes when these unconvinced “multitasking” Lifeguards miss something while lifeguarding we can assume, by their own claims, that they chose to ignore an important critical signal. Explain that to an inquest.

Hey! Just guard the pool; it’s your job.

What's Important may not always be obvious

I was having a discussion with a colleague regarding assumptions with candidates knowledge. He brought up a interesting point. (Thanks Jon!)

Too often at a re-certification for First Aid or Lifeguarding, material is reviewed superficially. We state for example, the importance of the Epi-Pen (auto-injector), or rapid aggressive cooling for burns and heat stroke, but don't provide a practical exercise. We assume that everyone knows how to use the auto-injector properly; we assume that rapid aggressive cooling is performed very quickly.

What we get with this approach, is upside down auto-injectors, and candidates overthinking how to cool a burn or heat stroke, when they are standing next to the pool or water fountain.

What does this mean for us instructors?

These are only two examples. There are other skills and knowledge areas that can stand a clear review.

And remember to make sure the candidates feel comfortable asking questions and getting help when needed.

The Rescue Aid - New or Just Forgotten?


Rescue Tube


You know .... that Bay Watch thing! On beaches it was the rescue can and more commonly in pools, the rescue tube.

So what's the deal? Why are rescue aids so controversial? Why do many aquatic facilities make it mandatory for the guards to carry them?

These devices actually seriously reduce how often a guard needs to enter the water for a rescue. What about kick boards? Lifejackets? Pool noodles?

For pools, the tube is more practical as it serves as a reaching aid, throwing aid, and a towing aid - and very importantly, it's soft. On beaches, any Lifeguard who initiates a rescue without a rescue can, is endangering themselves.

If feedback from Lifeguards in the US is correct, it seems that for pools anyway, they have abandoned all aidless rescues in their training. For me that seems like abandoning hand to hand combat for soldiers and police since they have weapons. Weapons get lost and sometimes fail.

Don't get me wrong. I am a strong proponent of Lifeguards carrying rescue aids. And when the rescue aids fail, Lifeguards need to be able to perform the rescue without the use of an aid. (I once told a manager that Lifeguards should be able to do their job naked; it was of course a euphemism.)

This brings us back to the ladder approach to rescues. Talk, reach, throw, GO! (We'll skip row for the pools)

So.... you're at a pool guarding, someone needs your immediate assistance.

  1. Can you talk them to the wall?
  2. Can you reach them with your rescue tube?
  3. Can you throw the aid to them?
  4. Do you have go into the water and get them?

Well, in three out of the four options, a rescue tube would be useful and keep me out of the water. And now that I think about it, I'd use the tube on the water rescue as well. I'm sold.

And, we should continue to train in contact aidless rescues. Just in case.

My theory on the demise of the kick board is that the companies making them didn't want the liability associated with their product being used as a rescue aid. Kick boards don't support larger victims, and are useless at outdoor pools on a windy day. Pool noodles are just a toy, though not useless. Lifejacket aren't the worst choice, but they don't throw well unless wet, and they don't give you a lot of reach compared to a tube.

Having said that, sometimes the best aid is the one you have at the moment - and works!


If we Lifeguards are going to use an aid, it may as well be designed for that purpose and look professional.

The all important safety step during a deadly pandemic

What do we do now in a first aid situation? Someone needs our help, and we're too scared to come close fearing infection. The fear is real; people have died from this coronavirus in large numbers. I don't have a pat answer that will offer a definitive solution.

I do recall listening to a nurse on a TV interview. She was willing to help but made it clear that her safety and well being came first.

We can at the very least contact EMS, if the patient is responsive and lucid we could council them on self help at a distance.

I'm not going to council anyone to place themselves in obvious danger. Do what you can and keep yourself as safe as possible.

Authorities have strongly advised us to just stay home as much as possible. This lowers our unnecessary risk of getting into trouble in the first place. Stay home, avoid other people, if you need to go out - keep your distance from others; wear a mask and wear it properly. Wash your hands regularly and properly.

Undoubtedly this pandemic will change our approach to first aid in the future. My sincere hope, is that the spirit of helping a fellow human being in need, is not lost.

The Online Phenomenon

Well we can now take almost any program online. Is this a good thing or not? I'm going to share what works and doesn't work; and I'm going to focus on First Aid.

First and foremost which market does this appeal to?

- Those that live in remote areas where these courses are far and few between.
- Those that have taken the program before and need to recertify.
- Those that comprehend well on written material.
- Those that are very comfortable using computers or other online devices.

What should you look for when selecting an online First Aid program?

- Look for a nationally recognized provider; there are a few. Red Cross, Lifesaving Society, St John, Heart and Stroke are some that come to mind. Not all of them offer online.
- Make certain, and this is critically important - there MUST be a classroom portion to cover the skills and answer questions.
- The online portion needs to work; the biggest gripe from student is over complicated and buggy web portals. It's got to work for a 10 year old and a 100 year old.
- Can you exit the program and come back and continue?
- Is there a "forum" feature for questions?
- Can you contact the instructor or anyone if needed, and what is the response time?

Further Tips:
- Once you receive your link to the program, get started right away. You may be surprised how long it actually takes.
- If you are taking First Aid for the first time - take a classroom course in its entirety. Online may cause grief when you can't ask questions and get answers quickly.

Keeping First Aid in Perspective

Back in the 1970s First Aid was often taught in a somewhat negative manner. "If you do this or don't do that, you will kill them!" Many people shied away from helping - not good.

Then we moved to "Doing something is better than nothing!" This philosophy proved problematic as it lead to poor First Aid.

My teaching method today is to encourage people to help and to do the best they can under the circumstances. You are not expected to be perfect, just to do what you can to the best of your ability, training, and conditions.

If you are worried that the cost of an ambulance may be an issue to the patient, remember this: not your problem and the ambulance is cheaper than a funeral.

We need to take something positive from case studies of First Aid gone poorly. It is a basic First Aid tenet to call EMS for all medical emergencies, and remember that the patient is not always going to make rational decisions. The patient may have the right to refuse treatment but they can't stop us from calling for help. Our job is to recognize the emergency, and provide appropriate care, within our training scope, until EMS arrives.

The "tailgate certification"

Oh boy have I wanted to rant about this for some time. Certifications that aren't certifications. Poorly taught classes or no class at all. Cash changes hands; certification cards are issued - no skill or knowledge review at all.

I'm not here to write an expose on bad trainers; I'm here to discuss the customer that is willing to pay for a "quick and dirty". Don't fall for the easy cash; it's never worth it. How did I get it? Let me tell you.

I've been known to hold my lifeguard candidates to a standard. If they were struggling with a skill, I'd work with them until they got it. No short cuts. No excuses.

Jaw thrust is a tricky skill to learn. With time everyone usually gets it. I remember spending time with some young Lifeguard candidates on this skill. I ensured they could do it properly. They whined and complained - "It's hard!" "My wrists hurt!" At the end of the day, they all could do it.

Years later one of my students was at a bar with a friend. They were followed home from the bar by someone who mistook them for someone else. My student's friend was assaulted with a steering club. The friend sustained a serious head injury. Waiting for the paramedics, the former student performed the jaw thrust on his friend to safe his life. He shared the story with me. His quote to me still shakes me up - "Lloyd, I did exactly what you taught me, I opened his airway and he began to breath"

I taught him.

More on the "Tailgate (Re)Certification"

Back awhile ago I wrote a bit about "questionable" re-certification practices. My concern then and now was the fact that often no (or very little) training took place. Money changes hands and a bit of theory might be covered over beers or coffee.

Not good!

The industry agencies providing the certification is taking notice. It's the good instructors that are getting the rap on the knuckles with ever increasing policies that make it harder and harder to serve the market.

I'm going to focus on first aid.

A good re-certification should in my humble opinion cover/review all the material with perhaps a little more depth for those who perform first aid at work. There needs to be plenty of practice on all the skills; professional first-aiders would want to take their skills to the next level and perhaps lose some bad habits. Consistency might be a goal as well. Things change in first aid; you need to be on top of this. Scenarios- yes they put it all together; include these!

The challenge is to determine the time-lines.

When you have 12 - 18 candidates, it's going to take all day for a EFA and certainly a full 16 hours for a SFA. Maybe longer.

We don't want to create a race to the bottom with our time-lines (faster cheaper, easier) , nor do we want to burn out the student with information overload either. 12 hours of class time is too long. Nine hours with a lunch break is about what the market will bear; most companies want it done in 8 hours for a EFA.

What do we do with the small classes?  Do 6 students take half the time of 12? No, and that is of course a dangerous argument. Lectures/videos take as long as they take no matter how many students you have.

We can however set how many activities, and how much time a student needs to spend on each skill and activity, and how many scenarios each student should participate in.

Why would we expect a student to perform extra and longer activities in small classes and then short change the students in larger classes? Students will complain if the CPR goes on too long - their wrists hurt. Two minutes is the standard for each student; generally you can get them to do more, by spreading it out, but to a limit.

Could the industry look at this? Some clients wish to take private and semi-private classes. These classes are very thorough. There is no "wait for your turn" time.

Setting only the class length as a standard has problems. Let's set the standard on the individual components for each student that add up to a great training session.

The slide - From Vigilant to Complacent

Let's Keep Our Focus!

Often after a major event or a good training session, everyone gets on the bandwagon on proper guarding. "Okay, NO buddy guarding, everyone in the proper positions!" Unfortunately, this only lasts a short time and then complacency sets back in.  As a supervisor this complacency is easy to spot.

What can I say? Guard Hard or go Home!

10 Ways to stay out of Lifeguarding trouble this summer

Okay kids! Lets look at how we can have a fun summer and stay out of trouble

  1. All awards are current
  2. In shape and fit for duty
  3. Eyes on the pool all the time
  4. No distractions
  5. Proper rotations
  6. Report on time
  7. Hung over? NOT!
  8. Team player - do your share
  9. No buddy guarding!

Have fun! Come on! This is a great job!

CPR Teaching Tip

Most of my students struggle with the blocked airway sequence with an unconscious patient. They tend to forget to check the mouth after each set of 30 compressions. Getting the student to focus on what they were doing and why they were doing it only helped to a small degree. Then I changed my approach; I told them there was two types of CPR - a patient with an open airway, or a patient with a blocked airway. I asked them, "What would be the difference?" They knew right away. Reduced the learning challenge in a big way.

The Basics of Lifeguarding - use them at an NL Recert

Generally most if not all the recerts I do for NL are for working lifeguards. Often the candidates get so hung up on meeting the "Must Sees" for the situation exercises that they forget to actually apply the fundamentals of lifeguarding that ironically lay in the Must Sees. That is, the guards tend to focus on reaction, and not guarding and scene management.

How does this present itself?

  1. Poor positioning. Often guarding from the "glare side" of the pool.
  2. Simply tracking the other candidates and not guarding their zone and the pool.
  3. Not checking out a guard that appears to be involved with a situation.
  4. Confusing majors and minors.
  5. Focusing on treatment and forgetting the global situation.

The best way to handle situations is to treat them as if they were actually happening for real.

In a nutshell, we apply what happens during actual guarding to the NL program and surprisingly it works.


Commitment  is one area of working with this generation that creates tension. We offer them a great job at a decent wage and expect them to show up for every shift. But they need time off for such frivolous (sarcasm) activates as writing exams, family celebrations, travel, illness, etc.  Are they all that different from the generation of  staff that worked in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, or in the early 2000s?

After thinking about this I think the answer is no. I also think that commitment is a two way street.

We were just as self centred and have forgotten what it is like to be young.  At 16 we wanted to work, but just enough to get by. 6 -9 hours a week was fine. School was very important, and we really did like our job.

What creates commitment? Difficult question when you consider this is largely something that comes from within. It is an intrinsic value. Don't get me wrong; there are strong extrinsic forces here as well. We did like the money and for me working in a female dominated environment was a wonderful benefit for this single (and lonely) guy. And we socialized... But what really mattered to me was how I felt at work and how I felt about my work.

I started teaching swimming at North Centennial and Sherbrook Pool. I was blessed with great helpful coworkers and supervisors that were so helpful and encouraging. I got the genuine sense that I was important, competent, contributing, and needed. I could ask for help and it was there - it was okay. My coworkers put me "under their wing".  I felt a part of the whole staff. Great feeling.

I looked forward to teaching swimming. It was the best part of the week.

From this environment came my commitment. I developed into a competent and interdependent instructor.

I was in a healthy physiological place:

What are we doing today to foster this environment?

The Post Incident Analysis (PIA) - Accident and Performance Review

After a major incident at an aquatic facility, it is always wise to review the over all response. I've been doing these for years now and a great deal of information has come to light as how Lifeguard staff respond in an intense situation.

It is important to give credit to the process. The City of Winnipeg developed a process with the collaboration of Dr. Brian Kowalchuk - City Psychologist, Phillip M Hay - Aquatic Manager, and myself the head lifeguard trainer at the time.

Reviews can be used even it what appears to be an innocuous event; even an informal "look-over" is valuable.

At the basic level, always ensure all field reports are completed in a timely manner, typed, and reviewed at the facility manager level and then again by a next higher level. Maintain all the original copies including rough notes. Electronic records make for easy access.

There is no such thing as "over-reporting".

For serious events, a more formal, elaborate, and detailed process is required. It is important to involve people who are well educated and experienced in all things lifeguarding.  Look for long term employees, supervisors, trainers and instructor trainers, highly qualified - some staff may work part time as paramedics.

The point of a PIA is to review the event in detail, and compare the performance of the staff, and the outcome, to the accepted certification standards, in-house training and protocols, any government standards such as pool regulations, and legal standards.

Here are the basis steps of an Incident Analysis:

  1. Control of the scene and staff wellbeing
    • Co-operate with police and other government agencies
    • Media control
    • Documentation
    • Crisis team involvement if needed
    • Isolate and support staff
  2. Review all reports and documentation
    • Have pre-meeting with PIA committee
  3. Interview all staff involved
  4. Review material
    • Have post interview meeting with PIA committee
    • Keep management in the loop where needed
  5. Make conclusions and recommendations in a report form

It sounds fairly straight forward and it is and it isn't. No two events are ever the same. It should be also made clear to the committee, that this is not "fun" work and certainly not for social loafers.  It requires a very analytical mind. A fair bit of mental incubation goes on; you have to sleep on this stuff, and oddly it keeps you up at night. The urge to come to judgement before all the facts are clear is strong. You may very well affect someone's livelihood. It may involve the legal system and certainly the Union or Labour Board.

The Interviews:

The point here is to take the field reports and the interviews and reconstruct the scene. Questions include:

This process of incident analysis is an alive process. It will continue to evolve and adapted to an ever changing work environment. It is a very necessary part of any aquatic workplace

Fifteen Ways to Keep Your Workplace Miserable

Whether you are in a union environment or working for a private company, there will always be issues in the workplace that need addressing. This can be issues regarding staffing levels, time off, training, wages, benefits, and so on....

Here are 15 ways to guarantee that your workplace will never get better.

  1. Do not get involved in coming up with constructive methods of addressing your issues other than complaining about them. This includes not getting involved with your union as a shop steward. If you have a steward in your workplace, treat them with contempt and blame them for all the problems.
  2. Approach all concerns from a position of ignorance and judgment.
  3. Be a toxic worker in the workplace. Ensure that everyone knows just how bad things are and never set a positive example.
  4. Do a poor job just to show your contempt.
  5. Whine publicly at any occasion. This is especially effective at meetings.
  6. When complaining, do so in a rant.
  7. Never offer a solution and dismiss all suggestions.
  8. Act like you're smarter than everyone - always point out errors in a public and condescending manner.
  9. Join or form a clique that alienates and bullies the good staff.
  10. Alienate any supervisory staff. Treat them like the enemy. If you do have a one-on-one discussion with a supervisor, tell them what they want to hear; you're bound to fool at least one.
  11. Insist that your personal values are more important than the organization.
  12. If you do offer a solution, make sure it's ridiculously impractical and self serving.  Better yet, start a major initiative, than bail out at a critical time and leave the workplace in a bigger mess. Blame management.
  13. Bad mouth your employer publicly.
  14. Discourage any perspective employees from applying.
  15. To be a master at all of this, remember to stay just below the radar.

I hope these suggestions help you out.

Hey Lloyd! This is a pretty negative view point. Yeah, it is and it isn't. Let’s go over each point and find what's good.

  1. Get involved! Speak up! Offer positive solutions. You may not get all you want but you will see change. Most supervisors welcome good ideas. Experience in a union or work committee is evaluable. If you're fortunate to have a steward in your workplace - treat them well; they are generally volunteers.
  2. Do your homework on issues and ask questions. You may find a very good reason for why things are the way they are. If you have your facts, you will garner more respect.
  3. Be a positive element in the workplace. Drawing people toward you influences the right crowd.
  4. If you're a top performer and you are confident in speaking up; well it's hard to keep a good person down.
  5. Whining is immature and unprofessional. Speak with confidence and remember to have your facts.
  6. Ranting is a sure way to push people away, especially those that you need to influence. It could get you in trouble and possibly fired.
  7. If you have a great idea, share. Again.... most good leaders welcome good ideas.
  8. You may have an IQ of 180 - but who cares if you lord it over everyone. People skills matter, sometimes more than smarts. If people recognise your intelligence but never feel stupid in your presence - you get it.
  9. You probably work in a team based environment. Forming a subculture is destructive. This too may get you into trouble.
  10. The worst thing a supervisor did was apply for a job. Not a sin. Being the supervisor is just a job; a necessary one at that. You don't have to love your supervisor, but you are expected to respect the position.
  11. The more collective your thinking becomes, the more we all benefit.
  12. Solutions require a big picture look. They also require a thorough understanding of what the various issues are. Focus on the group benefits which include the organization. If you're asked to help out with an initiative and you commit, honour your commitment to the best of your ability.
  13. Bad mouthing an employer or using social media to malign could also get you into trouble. Avoid this!
  14. You want to be able to celebrate the great job you have - right? Or why do you work there? If you can't promote your place of work, perhaps it's time to move on.
  15. If you think negativity in the workplace goes unnoticed - think again.

Majors and Minors - Let's get it straight

Alert defines a minor and major emergency. “The loss of patron supervision, a reduction in facility access or an event that endangers the safety of patrons or staff should be considered when determining the emergency type.

When a minor situation occurs, there is no loss of coverage and patrons are not restricted in their use of the facility. More than one lifeguard/assistant lifeguard may be needed to respond to the situation, but there are enough lifeguards/assistant lifeguards available to provide effective coverage and patrons still have reasonable access to the facility.

When a major situation occurs, coverage is compromised, deficient, or not adequate resulting in reduced or restricted access to areas of the facility or an evacuation of the facility.”
What this means is how the team responds to various situations. If you have, for example, two guards on deck, one on break, and a guard calls for assistance, does the third guard take over the guarding or assist? If this guard takes over the guarding, it’s a minor. If the third guard assists, it’s a major because coverage is lost to a degree. If the pool no longer has sufficient coverage – clear the pool. It is that simple.

There are varying degrees of clearing a pool. They could swim to the side, sit on the edge, stand/sit against the walls, clear out and head to the change rooms.

Remember as well, that guards don't necessarily show up in tandem or one at a time. Two may respond at the start and then are joined by more guards; perhaps the entire team responses together.
This means the team needs to define each role quickly.

When responding to a situation ask yourself, "Is this a major or a minor?"
Then handle it as such.


Uniforms and Professionalism

For the life of me, I could never put into words my concerns with uniforms and Lifeguards. Until now. At least I hope so.

As a group, Lifeguards are often young, thin, fit, good-looking, and not afraid to show it. As a supervisor I got myself into a squeeze when I shared my concern with the female staff wearing what I coined as “Daisy Dukes” or “booty shorts”. I felt it just wasn’t professional looking. Some of the female staff thought I was being sexist. Yikes! Not my intent at all! Since there was no mention of rules for male staff at the time, perhaps that was the issue; I may never really know. Once you hit 50 this all becomes a big mystery.

Let’s keep it simple. All Lifeguards should look professional. The uniform should clearly identify the Lifeguard, breath for comfort, and be completely functional. Water shedding is always an issue. No distractions.

Both male and female staff uniforms should consist of a proper shirt (Tank, golf, or T-shirt) and shorts. Functional track pants that shed water and are congruent with the overall uniform are fine. Foot wear would be appropriate to the venue. Ideally hats that match the uniform are best but the hat’s first function is to protect the Lifeguard from the sun; this would be an outdoor issue.

For the male staff: please - no Speedos or overly small and tight shorts (too much information) – proper shorts and yes you should wear a shirt. No modifying the shirts to show off your pipes and pecs. This includes purposely wearing extra-extra tight tops. What's your message?

For the female staff: bikinis are just going to garner the wrong message when you’re on the job. One-piece bathing suits are a wise choice. Save the bikini for the beach on days off. Hiking up the shorts to show off more leg – again, what’s the message?

My experience suggests that the public view Lifeguards that appear professional, as competent.

Having troubles getting the staff to follow the uniform policy? Are the uniforms attractive? Do they fit properly? Are they of good quality? Are there options? Is it a requirement? Are you issuing sufficient articles to reflect the amount of days worked; don't be cheap - the more the staff work, the more uniforms they will require. Most of us don't do laundry every day.

Exam Day Advice

So many of us Lifeguards have well developed skills, fitness levels, and can spout emergency guideline theory like a well seasoned pro, and yet once in a simulated situation (sit), it just doesn’t go as smooth as expected. Why do otherwise competent guards forget the basics such as an all important pool clear, or EMS activation? Why do they work with their backs to the pool? Commonly, Lifeguards, who are known for their social interaction with their peers, clam up during a situational exercise knowing full well that communication is the key to success in any real emergency. Why is this?

The following points should help all lifeguards get through their situational exercises, and more importantly gain the intended benefit – practicing for the real thing.


Practiced Stress - Perspective Realignment

One of the purposes of the final exam is to prepare the candidate for an actual emergency. If the candidate is able to overcome the stress of an exam, they are more likely to prevail during a real emergency. It's a valuable and necessary experience.

Once in situation, ask yourself  “What would I really do if this were actually happening?”

Often Lifeguards try to figure out what the examiner or instructor wants to see, and this is actually a hindrance. There are generally many correct approaches to every situation; go for the first one that works for you and your team. Remember too, the examiner is only holding you to the established standard (Must Sees).


Guideline theory only highlights commonalities from past events and offers key steps that should occur. Real events have a high degree of chaos, and the Lifeguards often do not have complete control. Real events do not play out like a script or choreography; Lifeguards need to be able to adapt as best as possible including having the event play out in a different order than presented on paper. Guideline theory should only be used as a framework for the Lifeguard to follow.

Remember that situations are judgment skills exercises. You are in fact problem-solving. This means that it is perfectly acceptable to adapt and take advantage of the circumstances as they unfold.

A good example: Two Lifeguards have just removed an unconscious patient from the water. A third Lifeguard appears with their gloves on and a CPR shield at the ready. Who takes over the patient’s head (vitals)? Obviously the guard that is ready to make any necessary contact with the patient - the one with the gloves and mask.

Other examples may be removing a spinal injured patient from the water first and then calling EMS because you only have two guards or the patient is large and all three guards are required immediately. You may opt to have 2 guards remove the spinal while a 3rd guard controls the deck. So really… there are many good approaches. THINK!

Real Versus Simulation

Real situations have real signals; the blood and pain are real, the injury or illness actually occurred. Situational exercises, no matter how elaborately set up, lack information. So...



“I’m approaching the scene, donning gloves, what do I see?”
“Is there danger present, is there evidence of trauma suggesting serious injury?”
“I’m looking at the patient, what do I see?”
“I’m checking for responsiveness, are they responsive?”
“I’m checking for breathing, are they breathing? I have a mask if necessary.”
“I’m giving two breaths, do they go in?”
“I’m checking for signs of circulation, are there signs?”
“I’m doing a rapid body inspection for deadly bleeds and emergency medical indicators. What do I find?”
“I’ve positioned the patient according to their condition and placed a blanket on them. I’m monitoring vitals; are vitals still present?”

State What You Are Thinking and What You Are Doing

“I see no obvious danger, I am approaching the scene.”
“This patient is talking. Therefore, they are conscious with an open airway, breathing, and have circulation.”
“I have checked this patient from head to toe and found no injuries or medical tags.”

Talk to your team mates, and listen to your team mates. This includes speaking up if a team mate is doing something wrong or needs help. Frame criticisms in the form of a request. “The chest strap is next!” The more you communicate with each other, the better the situation will flow. The best analogy is:

The team is working on a group project.
Everyone contributes to the project through discussion and doing their part.
The rescue leader or team leader makes the final decisions.

Delegate and look or ask for things to do Successful rescues are a team effort. If your trying to do everything yourself, you’re going to be over-tasked and prone to error. If you’re just standing there waiting for direction, you’re useless; look for the obvious priority task that requires attention and then do it! State everything you’re doing to the team and team leader.

Be aware of what is going on around you at all times. Lifeguards often develop a tunnel-vision like mentality during a situation, focusing only on what is in front of them and tuning out everything else. While it is important to focus on the patient, the lifeguard must also filter out important information that is occurring during the emergency. This includes cueing to the two-way radios, reports or requests from team mates, public address announcements, crowd control problems, unsafe conditions, tasks that require attention, poor performance from another Lifeguard, etc.

Keep it SIMPLE! ABCs are always the priority. Don’t read more into the situation than you need to. Often Lifeguards assume the situation is going to be far more complicated that it really is.

Example: a kid has been at the pool all day and his eyes are red and sore. Is it a massive chlorine leak or has the kid been at the pool all day, his eyes have had it, and he should bring goggles next time?

An old medical adage states: “Don’t look for zebras in your back yard”. Simple does not mean shallow; pay attention to obvious details.

If you make a mistake, fix it just as you would in an actual emergency. Don't beat yourself up and shut down; there is probably a solution - make it work. Avoid maximizing your errors; they are generally not as big as you think. Avoid minimizing your good performance; give yourself and your team mates credit where it is due.

Final tip: the situations during a National Lifeguard exam may not be real, but the exam is very real; make it your reality.

Prevention of Accidents - What is Prevention?

Often when a tragedy occurs at an aquatic facility, one of the first complaints that arise is the lack of prevention. When I ask people, "So what is prevention?" Generally I get confused looks and comments such as "You know, prevention - stop things from happening!" So I ask again, "And what does prevention look like? What do we do that amounts to prevention?"

Most people define prevention as stopping the customer from doing dangerous activities. And that people is only one aspect of prevention - rule enforcement.

Prevention is accomplished on the many levels including:

Facility risk analysis

Determine risks

This requires an in-depth inspection of your facility preferably in the design phase. Often professionals and experts are brought in to assist including safety specialists. The Lifesaving Society Canada provides just such a service.

Eliminate risks

Once the obvious risks are identified, eliminate those identified where practical.

Control and manage risks

Those risk areas that can not be eliminated are controlled and managed to the best of the operation's ability. This may include physical barriers, etc.

Rule and Policy creation, review, and enforcement

Create rules and guidelines on every aspect of the operation and ensure there is a enforcement method. i.e. One person on the diving board at a time. Walk on the deck - no running.

Public education

Some rules are not obvious to the untrained. This may be the patrons’ first experience in a leisure aquatic environment. Education can take place in many forms including:

Public education also includes the importance of parental or caregiver supervision.

If you're not within arm's reach, you've gone too far!

Parental supervision includes parents, babysitters, spouses, school teachers, teachers aids, special needs workers, "the buddy system", etc.

Encourage people to choose a supervised swim area over a unsupervised swim area. "Supervised" means with certified Lifeguards.

Educating caregivers on the signs of drowning is very helpful.

Effective hiring practices

Much grief can be eliminated by hiring quality people from the start.

Lifeguard training and education

The training Lifeguards receive from the various agencies is just the start. Employers are expected (by law in some areas) to provide pre-hire and regular ongoing training for all staff.

Supervision and scanning

Ensure that the Lifeguarding staff know what is expected when they are guarding. This comes down to which techniques for scanning are to be employed. Where are the Guards positioned? Establishing Lifeguard position Diagrams for the various bather loads and conditions is crucial.

Performance audits of the Lifeguards

This could look like a "secret shopper" or an unannounced detailed analysis of the Lifeguards and rescue equipment.

Personal accountability

Develop a culture where it is okay to error and admit it. If we all learn from the error, we can prevent it from reoccurring.

Maintaining standards through regular testing of the staff’s skills and fitness

Effective leadership to reinforce and enforce the training and job expectations of the Lifeguards

If the leadership of the organization ignores unsafe practices, they are in effect condoning these practices. Develop the leadership team from the front line and up. Support the leadership team.

Prevention is in fact a collection of elements that greatly reduce the risk to all swimmers. Hopefully this article gives everyone a good start with the subject of Prevention.


Keep the training straightforward and not so spectacular
By Lloyd Plueschow

Modern lifeguard training should focus on the rudiments of good lifeguarding. It makes no practical sense to introduce advanced skills like oral pharyngeal airways (OPAs), manual suction, and cervical collars, particularly if EMS is close at hand, when pool deck management and basic first aid skills are lacking. Lifeguards do need solid first aid skills, but not at the expense of basic scanning skills, rescue skills, and situational (sits) role responsibilities.

Lifeguards do provide professional first aid

Lifeguards should be adept at the standard first aid (SFA) level. The difference here is that they are doing it at a professional level. The response should always remain within the scope of the job; lifeguards are not paramedics and paramedics are not lifeguards. At some point, a line of minimum basic care must be drawn. Consider as well, that changes are always coming – Auto Defibrillators are making their way into more and more public areas. Lifeguards today have more in-depth first aid training than ambulance attendants (now called EMTs and Paramedics) did in the 1960s. There are some techniques lifeguards carry out that are not taught to the general public and are expected by EMS to be preformed by the lifeguards. These include:

• In depth spinal cord injury management
• Basic skin closure techniques
• The ability to focus on a patient, and still respond to relevant external critical signals such as a two-way radio or other sources
• Oxygen equipment

Are advanced skills a waste of time?

No, but they should reflect what is needed and should be provided by the respective employer to address specific needs. The level of treatment provided would be in relation to the EMS response – the longer the expected wait, the greater the care provided; in most large communities, this is not an issue. NLS training should focus on the rudiments of professional lifeguarding, and be broad-based; the successful candidate would be able to gain employment in most aquatic environments. This training would include:

• A thorough understanding of the job of a lifeguard
• I clear comprehension of attention to task and the follies of distracted guarding
• Thorough applied understanding of scanning. This is what we do most of the time so let’s keep the training focused here. The job is prevention
• Well-entrenched rescue skills including spinals
• A comprehensive applied understanding of role guidelines on the handling of major emergencies, minor emergencies, and public relations
• This includes a clear application of “shift to cover” and back up
• The specific role and function of each guard in the emergency or situation and in general, and the ability to role shift in a logical manner
• Fitness. (Get your class to do one-rescuer CPR, for 5 minutes non-stop.)

• In-depth Standard First Aid skills. These include:

          • Rock-solid Scene Assessment and Primary Assessment skills.
          • Minor wounds, bleeds, scrapes, minor bone and joint injuries, and burns should all be a no-brainer.
          • Total immersion in all modalities of CPR.
          • A good basic knowledge of typical medical emergencies.
          • Doing a proper SAMPLE interview.
          • Complete a thorough head to toe examination when appropriate.
          • Knowing when to do a “local examination” instead.
          • Confidently obtaining a set of vitals at regular intervals AND recording the clock time of each.
          • Detailed reporting skills.

In a nutshell, let’s train Lifeguards to Lifeguard, and while we’re at it – make it fun.

The Joys of Standardization

A while ago, I was having a discussion with a colleague about water spinal injury rescues. The discussion hinged around how strict our employer is on how we perform this rescue. Couldn’t there be just a little more latitude? Shouldn’t the lifeguards who actually perform the rescue make the decisions on how the task is executed? I felt exactly this way in my early years of Lifeguarding. What I know now, and I wish I knew then, is that there is a big picture. If you have a large staff at your site or sites, with a regular turn over, some technical responses need to be standardized for consistency. Spinal injury rescue is just one of those technical responses.  Advantages to standardization are as follows:

To give an example, I was practising with the City of Winnipeg Lifeguard Instructor Team just a while ago. We decided to do a 3-Rescuer Non-Breathing Beavertail Deep-End Rescue. We stuck to the script. There was little communication other than what was necessary; everyone knew what to do. Forty-five seconds from the vice-grip-turn to the deck; we weren’t rushing. I remember in times before, it would have taken us around three minutes to accomplish that same rescue. The feeling of team spirit when you pull off a stellar group skill like that is beyond words. Even with a set approach to a rescue, decisions within the rescue still have to be made. It’s not choreography even though you may practise it like it is. Standardization is simply a common path; there will always be parameters so lifeguards can adapt to their conditions – you’re still making decisions. At least everyone is on the same path.

I’m sold on standardization. I know it doesn’t apply to all aspects of the job, and for some people it may be perceived as stifling innovation. However, to decide which technique to use on a spinal during an actual rescue is impractical; this is not the time to experiment. If standardization, of certain rescue techniques, makes us better Lifeguards, and offers better service to our patrons, it’s the way to go.


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