Feature Article - February 2022
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Safe In (and Out of) the Water

Aquatic Facility Safety From Design Through Operation

By Dave Ramont

Swim Lessons for All

According to the World Health Organization, the risk of drowning is reduced by 88% for those who take formal swimming lessons. And yet many people just don't have the means to take advantage of learn-to-swim programs. Fortunately, there are nonprofit groups working to make swim lessons available for all comers.

Dan Vawter is vice president of AquaChamps Swim School in Oakland Park, Fla., the pilot swim school for Florida's new Every Child a Swimmer (ECS) program, which unites several organizations in a drowning prevention mission.

Dr. Bill Kent, chairman of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, spearheaded the ECS legislation, which passed the Florida House and Senate in 2021. The legislation will require Florida schools to ask if a child has participated in swimming lessons as part of their school-entry health exam, and will require schools to provide information regarding swimming lessons if the parents report that their children have not participated in lessons. Additionally, to aid those in underserved communities, the program awards families funding to pay for formal swimming lessons through an accredited program. "The goal is to make lessons accessible and affordable," said Vawter, adding how they're working with the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance's Step into Swim campaign to clarify the criteria for eligibility.

Kent and Olympic Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines are now taking the legislation national. "ECS has already started to partner with the United States Swim School Association, the American Red Cross, the YMCA and the American Swim Coaches Association," said Vawter. "Now you can go on the ECS website and search for a qualifying school near you. As the partnerships grow, so too will the database of participating swim schools."

Vawter said the pilot program at their school has been a big success, with lessons provided to more than 70 scholarship recipients, both children and adults. "We have parents of swimmers who have never learned to swim, some with near-drowning experiences, who are learning to swim so that they can enjoy the water with their children!"

Other Tools

The use of technology is fast becoming a standard of care in aquatics, according to DeRosa, with numerous products and services available to help lifeguards detect emergency situations in the water. "While the behaviors that trigger an alert may differ by manufacturer (e.g., motionless for 10 seconds, no movement toward surface), these drowning detection devices essentially alert lifeguards when someone has remained underwater too long, allowing them to intervene quickly to interrupt the drowning process. There are now 'wearables' that can be used as well, that track swimmers using Bluetooth technology. When a swimmer submerges, the signal is lost. If it doesn't reconnect in a defined period of time, an alarm will sound, not only alerting rescuers to the submersion but also indicating the beacon closest to the submersion incident," he explained.

DeRosa also feels it's important for pool operators to become certified, though he said that only about half the states require this. His company offers different certification programs, focusing on filtration, circulation, sanitation, chemical treatment and water balance, as well as an integrated focus on risk management and lifeguard standards of care and performance.

He also suggested that aquatics directors consider achieving the AqP designation through the Association of Aquatic Professionals. "This designation helps demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning, helping ensure designated professionals have the latest information in the field relative to water safety, pool operations and drowning prevention." RM