Waterpark Tragedy

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Tom J. Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Consultant ::::
A child of tender years attended a birthday party at a popular water park. Prior to the party, the young boy was engaged in swimming lessons; however, not a comfortable and confident swimmer yet. The boy usually wore a life jacket when swimming with family and friends.
On this tragic day, the family took the young boy with his siblings to a pool party; however, they forgot to bring his life jacket. As often happens at pool parties, the parents lost track of their son. The young boy somehow accessed deep water over his head, and drowned, although no one in the facility noticed him.

While making his rounds, a lifeguard supervisor noticed the young boy face down on the surface of the water. The supervisor asked the lifeguard on duty if the boy face down in the water was OK. The lifeguards responded the boy was OK and he was just holding his breath (which should not be allowed). While both the supervisor and the lifeguard watched the boy, they discussed whether the boy was in distress or just holding his breath. This discussion was a delay that could have made the difference between life and death.
What made this case even more tragic was at the water park in question, they had a myriad of life jackets available on the pool deck with a sign stating, “We urge non-swimmers and children under 48 inches to wear life jackets.” Even though the parents failed to bring their son’s life jacket with them, there were plenty of life jackets available for him to use.
In addition, when a child is face down, lifeguards should respond immediately by checking on the child, not discussing his possible well-being.
This tragic case was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Lessons Learned:
1. All non-swimmers need to wear properly fitting Coast Guard Approved Life Jackets
2. Lifeguards need to learn to respond immediately without delay or discussion. There are ways to help remember this: “When in Doubt, Check Them Out!” “When You Don’t Know, GO!” or “More Than 10, (secs.) Get Them!”
“More than 50% of drownings at guarded pools and water parks come during group functions at the facility. When pool parties are planned for any aquatic facility, extra layers of protection are needed.”
Tom J. Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Consultant with DJS Associates, can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.

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