What’s Important may not always be obvious

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?

  • Do not assume that the candidates know their stuff
  • The candidate(s) may feel embarrassed to ask questions; make sure questions are welcomed and encouraged
  • If the issue you are emphasising is important, spend some time covering it; pass a training auto-injector around and let everyone practise the skill
    • Get the candidates to look around the pool and spot where the sources or cool water are, and get them to figure out how long it would take to cool the patient with the various methods.

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

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

Till next time.


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 recognised 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.

Till next time

Lifeguard Lloyd

The Rescue Aid – New or Just Forgotten?

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. 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.


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 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.

  • Guards out of position – placing themselves into positions of convenience rather than sightlines and response time – often close to the staff room or near coworkers where they can chat. Often these positions are on the glare side of the pool creating even more problems.
  • The distractions start to creep in. This could be anything from adjusting the deck radio (with their back to the pool), applying nail polish (REALLY!), to blatant buddy guarding. In extreme cases it may involve the use of their personal phones (YIKES!).
  • Poor rotations. Instead of waiting for the next guard to cover the zone during the rotation, the guards simply move to the next position as soon as they see the next guard approaching. This often leads to loss of coverage during the rotation.
  • Early clean-up before closing so everyone can get out early. Great if someone is guarding exclusively at the time. This is often not the case. This may also annoy the public.
  • Attitudes change from vigilance to a false sense of invincibility. This is the most serious effect as it involves getting people’s thinking back in order.

What can I say? Guard Hard or go Home!


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.

  • Most guards, or at least the good ones, position themselves on the pool deck in the best location(s).
  • Where as we do track the high risk patrons, we still include everyone else.
  • As team players, if we see a guard dealing with a situation, we at the very least monitor it and get involved (help out) if necessary; we do not just ignore it.
  • Major and minors are the backbone of Lifeguarding reaction; it is fundamental to professional response.
  • And, yes we need to focus on what we are doing in regards to treatment, but we can’t ignore what is going on around us.

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 I really did like my 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:

  • Safe
  • Competent
  • Included

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:

  • What was happening prior to the event?
  • Where were all the lifeguards prior?
  • Where were the caregivers if relevant?
    • This includes parents, baby sitters, group leaders, swim instructors, special needs workers, and spouses, etc. Basically anyone left in charge of someone’s care.
  • Who spotted the situation?
    • What did they see?
  • What happened after the event was recognised?
  • What went well?
  • Where are the concerns?
  • How did the training help?
  • What would help in future training?
  • How do you feel returning to the work place?
  • Final thoughts?

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.