​​​​inPERSPECTIVE / SAFETY: Keep Safety Staff Prepared

American Red Cross

As fitness centers and recreation facilities boom in popularity, lifeguards are being called to conduct rescues both in and out of the water. That’s what happened to Lauren Chiappetta and Thomas Massam, who came to the aid of a 98-year-old man who suffered a cardiac emergency while exercising on a recumbent bicycle at the Greenwich YMCA on Nov. 5, 2021.

Chiappetta and Massam administered oxygen to the semi-conscious man, who was struggling to breath and barely had a pulse. The team simultaneously calmed the man’s family until he was ready to be transported to the hospital by paramedics. For their actions, Massam and Chiappetta were presented with the American Red Cross Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders.

As part of the award ceremony, Matthew Skaarup, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Greenwich, commended his lifeguards for saving the member’s life. He pointed out the seriousness with which the YMCA’s lifeguards take their responsibilities. “The health and safety of our members and guests is our top priority,” he said.

This commitment to creating a safe environment for members translates to training team members to the highest industry standard. Yet with safety staff at a premium, organizations are seeking to be more efficient with their training schedules while meeting requirements.

These needs dovetail with learnings coming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced education providers to build the infrastructure to support new learning methods and integrate technology into the classroom.

A Powerful New Training Tool

Recent research underscores how online learning approaches have become a powerful post-pandemic tool. These newer modalities such as online or virtual learning, hybrid learning environments and blended learning, combine in-person learning with an online component.

“Public health disasters such as COVID-19 can encourage innovation and create out-of-the box thinking in educational settings,” provided these components are in place, Minnesota State University Moorhead researchers concluded.

It’s something that wellness leader Life Time has incorporated into its operations of urban and suburban fitness and aquatic facilities. The company’s fast growth requires keeping current team members primed to prevent and respond to incidents while simultaneously training new team members to
the same high standard.

To maintain consistency in its staff’s readiness to respond, Life Time embraces a blended learning format that combines online learning with in-person instruction. For them, the benefits of blended learning are twofold:

  • All team members receive the same up-to-date information and techniques.
  • Learners must demonstrate knowledge to progress through the training.

Life Time trains in First Aid/CPR/AED with the Red Cross blended learning, taking advantage of its “adaptive learning” methodology. Adaptive learning allows learners to take an online pre-assessment and then receive training customized to their educational needs. In other words, learners have the opportunity to skip past sections where they have already demonstrated expertise, thereby saving time and allowing employees to spend more time on the job.

Improving Learner Confidence

Another type of learning that can lead to greater retention is called “active learning.” This proven educational methodology heightens learner attention and engagement, reinforces essential lifesaving actions and improves learner confidence during a real-life situation. In this method, the emphasis is on peer-to-peer learning where learners take turns simulating the role of an active lifesaver, a coach and an observer.

The Red Cross uses this method in its First Aid/CPR/AED courses, and the approach allows for half of the class to now be spent on hands-on training. The highly active learning environment affords greater opportunities for feedback among peers and instructors. Instructors are finding that this process ensures more personalized—and more effective—training and evaluation of learner skills and knowledge.

Addressing Staffing Shortages

Yet, all the learning in the world can’t resolve situations where staffing shortages and pressures to open facilities create potentially dangerous situations.

“The struggle is real,” writes Dr. William Ramos, associate professor, Indiana State University, in a Scientific Statement put out by the Aquatics Subcouncil of the Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. “So are the pressures placed on aquatic managers to open facilities that people are accustomed to using.”

In the Scientific Statement, the Red Cross advises facilities to be vigilant against compromise and always place safety first. Lead author Ramos states, “Do not compromise on what you’ve been trained to know is appropriate regarding operational realities.”

While the statement specifically addresses aquatic facilities, its tenets hold true for any recreational facility where safety is paramount:


  • Be flexible and nimble. This may require adjusting or even reducing areas available to patrons to maintain appropriate staff coverage.
  • Educate higher-ups and the general public about the standards for a safe facility and why they are in place.
  • Don’t overextend your staff. Keeping them fresh means they will feel ready and be more effective when minutes matter.

All these strategies, including adjusting schedules, are designed to prevent unguarded, “swim/play-at-your-own-risk,” unsafe and unsupervised situations.

An Emphasis on Prevention

At the end of the day, recreation facilities require well-rounded staff capable of responding to both “land” and “water” emergencies. Organizations like Life Time now train thousands of team members annually to the same high standard in lifeguarding and First Aid/CPR/AED and in the use of the federally-mandated AED equipment located in all facilities. Team members stay current with ongoing access to updated online Red Cross course materials and free downloadable Red Cross mobile apps.

But for Life Time, the enduring value of its training is the emphasis on prevention.

“Our measure of the effectiveness of Red Cross training is in how few incidents we have in our facilities. Success for us is lifeguards conducting surveillance properly and our safety response team feeling prepared to help in an emergency,” said Kim Lichtenwalter, safety program manager for Kids and Aquatics for Life Time.     RM




Stephanie Shook is a Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) and the senior product manager of aquatics and instructors for the American Red Cross. She directs Red Cross Aquatic and Instructor Trainer Aquatic programs, including Lifeguarding, Swimming and Water Safety, Lifeguard Management and the Aquatic Examiner Service. Visit redcross.org/training for more information about Red Cross aquatic programs.

Stephanie Shook