Guest Column - November 2007
Find a printable version here

The War Against RWIs

Letters From the Front

By Louis "Sam" Fruia, M.Ed.


Shared responsibilities

It is a misconception to believe that pool and spa operators alone should bear the burden of combating RWIs. The CDC's 2001-2002 WBDO summary lists five states with at least four or more RWI outbreaks where state codes define operators and require posted proof of certification. Some state codes only cite a "capable manager" or a "qualified person" with no clarification or definition as to the meaning. Clearly this method is not working, as outbreaks continue to occur in these states where there are "qualified operators." The CDC reports that over 97 percent of the data come from areas that require operators to be trained and certified, and only one in four had the proper training required by the local code. Also troubling, a published study revealed that many operators do not work over the weekends, the peak operation periods for many pools and spas.

It is a misconception to believe that pool and spa service technicians should bear the burden of combating RWIs. Class "C" facilities like hotels, where an outside service technician or service company operates the pool, are the source of many outbreaks. Sadly, most state codes make no mention of service technicians, who are therefore unregulated, leaving many unskilled technicians to deal with the dangers presented by RWIs. The owners and managers of these hotels and motels are nonprofessionals who conceptualize that service technicians are trained and knowledgeable aquatic professionals. Service techs do not necessarily have RWI knowledge, and many just have a truck, a bucket of sanitizer and a pole with a brush at the end.

It is a misconception to believe that coaches should not be responsible for combating RWIs because they do not operate aquatic facilities. We all agree that the coach is in charge of the team's physical safety while at practice. However, we don't often include chemical or microbiological safety in the coaches' responsibilities. This is nonsense. The coach is the "commander in chief," and to quote a very pragmatic and down-to-earth former Commander in Chief, President Harry S. Truman, "The buck stops here." Anyone who wants to be in charge has to accept the responsibilities that go with the job. This includes all the responsibilities, not just the easy ones.

The education of a coach must not be limited to stroke or diving technique, physiology or biomechanics. Basic course requirements necessary for aspiring coaches in swimming and diving clearly do not prepare the future coach to recognize disease transmission dangers. They must understand the potential for an athlete's exposure to RWIs at any aquatics facility where they practice, as well as the hotel pool or spa where they rest on the road. Under the present system, coaches may be playing roulette with their athletes' health.

The image that a pool operator, coach, lifeguard or instructor needs to project to patrons, athletes and clients would be that of an aquatics professional, not a person who asks unskilled laypeople to do their job for them.

The first dispatch from the front two years ago, "Aquatics War with RWIs," hinged upon collaboration. The focal point was to rally this collaboration into a unified "plan of attack" against RWIs where organizations would mobilize training materials to include RWI awareness.

That collaboration, while progressing, is doing so slowly with assistance from groups and individuals in the aquatic industry. The product of this collaboration is the creation of a basic training module in RWI disease transmission. With continued interest from certifying organizations, this module will provide recruits from every program that trains operators, service technicians, swimming and diving coaches the knowledge base they need to fight RWIs. Only then can we muster sufficient recruits to win the war.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Louis "Sam" Fruia, a 30-year industry veteran with 18 years of teaching experience, is the aquatic coordinator for the Brownsville Independent School District's Margaret M. Clark Aquatic Center in Brownsville, Texas. He is an active member of the American Swimming Coaches Association, US Swimming, US Diving, American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, National Recreation & Park Association, and the South Texas American Red Cross. For more information, visit www.bisd.us/Aquatics_Center/index.htm.