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Thu, 08 May 2014 17:24:06 +0000
(NEW YORK) -- Warm weather is quickly approaching and you're probably eager to enjoy a little fun in the sun. Whether you plan to hit the waves at the beach, lounge at the local pool or float down the lazy river at your closest water park, there is a staggering statistic and silent threat swirling around swimmers: Roughly 4,000 Americans drown each year, and one in five children who drown do so in a pool with a lifeguard present.
Kathleen Pluchinsky knows this reality all too well. In July 2007, her 4-year-old son John drowned at a ritzy Houston country club while lifeguards were on duty.
The daughter of a lifeguard, Pluchinsky also spent six summers atop the guard stand during her youth.
“So when we lost our son to a drowning, the irony of it was just devastating,” she told ABC News' 20/20.
Since John’s death, the Pluchinsky family has become advocates for aquatic safety and awareness.
“It's not the water's fault. The reason this happens is two reasons and two reasons only, lack of supervision and lack of training,” said Pluchinsky.
So before donning swimsuits and sunscreen this season, soak up the tips below to ensure a safe day enjoying water activities:
Take a Tour of the Swimming Facility
Before jumping into the water, take a tour of the facility. Note whether the lifeguards are attentive to the swimmers and constantly scanning their designated areas. Walk around the perimeter of the pool and check for blind spots that lifeguards might not be able to view from their assigned posts.
Look for availability of Automated External Defibrillators and emergency phones inside the pool deck.
Empower Yourself by Asking Questions
Inquire about the training and supervision of lifeguards.
Ask management how they ensure that guards are current on all of their certifications and whether their skills are regularly tested so they can identify and rescue a swimmer in distress at a moment’s notice.
Harris, a 23-year-old former lifeguard from Texas who asked that his last name not be used, told 20/20 that "someone can drown in no, in no time. I mean, all it takes is one gulp of water.”
Question if the facility has an Emergency Action Plan in place, what the plan entails and how often emergency procedures are practiced.
Be Cognizant of Your Child’s Swimming Abilities
“Supervision is a key,” said Richard “RAC” Carroll, a senior vice president of Ellis & Associates, a lifeguard certification and training company.
He encourages parents to arrange swim lessons and training for their children to bolster their confidence while in the water. If a pool requires a swim test and your son or daughter is recommended to stay in the shallow end or wear a life jacket, recognize that it is for his or her own good. Parents and guardians often overestimate their children’s capabilities.
Carroll suggests, “parents should always be within arm’s reach of their child.”
Respect the Lifeguards
“Lifeguarding is a culture of honor,” says Pluchinsky.
Despite one’s age, lifeguards should be regarded with respect. Parents and children, alike, should follow the rules of the pool and direction of the on-duty guards.
Harris said he hated when parents would drop off their kids at the pool in the morning and pick them up hours later, using the guards as a babysitting service.
Pluchinsky argues that lifeguards should be trained and treated like they stand between life and death, to appreciate the gravity of their jobs.
“And these kids aren't treated like that anymore. They're treated like it's a summer job,” she said.
Address Complaints and Acknowledge Compliments
If you have concerns about safety procedures or lifeguard performance or supervision at a swimming facility, it is important to report concerns to those in charge.
“It should make you uncomfortable that lifeguards are not doing their job and uncomfortable that the facility is not supervising their lifeguards to make sure they’re doing their job,” Carroll says.
It’s always beneficial to express your issue in writing and send copies to supervisors and managers.
Watch the full story on ABC News' 20/20 on Friday, May 9, at 10 p.m. ET
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