#5 State of Pool Safety in Alton, IL

Summer is coming faster than you think… take swim lessons now in order to keep your skills sharp for the summer fun.
Anywho – Let me show you something… although you’ll have to picture it yourself in your head. I live in Alton, IL, right accross the river from St. Louis, MO. St. Louis is a very big city/area with many, many aquatics facilities. In Alton we have about three or four.
The aquatics facilities in St. Louis are all about safety and legal issues (from a "preparing for emergencies" point of view). They think of everything: Emergency Action Plans, Safety Checks, Inservice Training, Safety Drills and more. They place all Safety Procedures in the Employee Manual so everybody knows what they are. They also hold yearly Inservice Training in order to make sure that theirthier employees know what to do in case of an emergency.
The aquatics facilities in the Alton area do not do this stuff. Why? I believe the reason may be due to the mentality of the people of the area. Because the Alton area is so small (compared to a place like St. Louis), the pools are smaller; in physical size as well as membership/attendance. This small, personal nature of the pools causes the patrons and employees to form a social bond which puts the facility in a more relaxed mood. This relaxed mood as well as the very low number of emergencies and life threatening incidents (along with good ol’ Hollywood) has resulted in creating an area in which people have come to think that slacker teenagers get summer jobs as lifeguards because… well, they are lazy, slackers.
So it does not matter that none of the lifeguards in the area remain true to their training because there aren’t any incidents that arise to point out how unprepared these facilities are. The problem is that if such an incident would arise, what would be the consequences? Would it be something easy enough to fix, or would a life be taken because a lifeguard forgot to do something as simple as take the rescue tube with them? Many of the people who run the aquatics facilities in the area have no real background in the field of aquatics and aquatics safety. So they do only what law requires them to do.
Illinois State law is not that strict about pool safety. They have a list of requirements for building and running a facility, along with a list of "Patron Regulations," however, these regulations do not refer to "aquatics safety." The Illinois Department of Public Health’s regulations are set forth to help keep the public healthy, but not technically safe from harm that Lifeguards are trained to diminish or remove from a facility. One of the "Patron Regulations" states that if lifeguards are present, they are responsible for upholding the rules and making rescues. If the lifeguards are not doing what they were trained to do, but instead doing what they want or what makes them comfortable (as in sitting position) the State Health Inspectors do not catch it. The Health Inspectors have a list of items they check to make sure facilities are following the IDPH laws. They do not make sure lifeguards are doing their job like they were trained. That is the job of the facility supervisor.
So am I saying that Alton area pools are not safe? Well, I work at three of them on-and-off and I can tell you that these pools are safe. Are they as safe as they could be? Are they as safe as they should be? This depends on your point of view and what you consider safe. Jumping out of an airplane may be dangerous, but if you are trained correctly then you are considered safe (by most people’s standards). Does a lifeguard need to hold the rescue tube like they are trained to do; or are they fine with it sitting in front of them?
Realistically, there may not be a correct way to perceive or solve this dilemma. Instead I will simply end with this:
If you took your kids to a pool one day, would you feel safer if the lifeguards were actively scanning the pool with the rescue tube ready in their hands for an immediate rescue; or sitting around talking with other people on the pool deck occasionally looking at the pool?
-end of line

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