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Posted June 21, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Pool rules: Lifeguards stress safety so swimmers can have fun

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

The hotter the weather turns the more area residents will think of hurrying to local pools to cool off and enjoy the summer.

Pools can be a source of fun and relaxation, and the best way to ensure that happens is by knowing the rules at each facility.

Visits to the pool go more smoothly when everyone works together for the safety of all, and there are some things the aquatics staffs want the public to know.

The top challenge area lifeguards and facility supervisors encounter is unsupervised children.

"Make sure that you are supervising your child," says Lorilei Dreibelbis, water safety instructor and manager of the pool at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center in Front Royal. Knowing that a lifeguard is watching "does not relieve you as a supervisor," she says.

A lifeguard's job is to watch the water and enforce the rules of the facility, but the guard can do his or her job best with the support of parents, she says, adding that no matter how safe a pool or beach is, there is always a risk of drowning.

"That's why water safety becomes a community effort," she says. "Drownings are preventable."

Mike Asmussen, recreation services coordinator of aquatics for the Winchester Parks and Recreation Department, agrees.

"The lifeguards are there to help prevent injuries is the main thing, but they're not baby sitters for the children," he says.

The next thing lifeguards need from parents is to make sure children who are old enough know how to swim. Those who are not old enough need to know how far they can go out in the water.

"Make sure you know if your kid is a good swimmer," says Strasburg Town Pool lifeguard Laurey Stickles. "I recommend swimming lessons, too."

"Being able to learn to swim, being able to get your head up," are important for children, Dreibelbis says. Children who know how far they can manage in a pool will be less likely to get in over their heads, she says.

Many pools offer swim lessons throughout the summer, though some summer sessions are already full. For more information on swim lessons, call the local parks and recreation department, pool or town office near you.

Children, even good swimmers, usually get in trouble in the water when they panic. Rules pertaining to height and swimming ability vary from one pool to another, so it is important to read the pool's regulations before swimming, say professionals.

"The reason why is just a safety issue," says Asmussen. "We have to be consistent."

Just because one child can swim well does not mean that another of the same height can, he says.

At the pool at Jim Barnett Park in Winchester, children must be tall enough -- 48 inches or taller -- to touch the bottom of the pool when using the slide, regardless of swimming ability, he says.

"That's industry standard," he says.

Children also must be able to use the slide alone, without a parent catching the child at the bottom. Patrons using the slide may not wear T-shirts, sunglasses or goggles and must slide feet-first, Asmussen says.

Children who cannot swim are allowed to wear life jackets approved by the U.S. Coast Guard in the pools in Strasburg and Winchester. Puddle Jumpers, which wrap around a child's chest, are also allowed. Floating devices that hinder lifeguards' view of the bottom of the pool are not allowed.

At the Strasburg Municipal Park pool, no inflatables are allowed, except for floaties and life jackets, according to its printed information sheet, and parents must be in the pool with the child if floaties are being used.

Dangerous activities like running on the pool deck, performing flips or diving off of the deck into the pool, dunking or throwing people into the water, hanging on ropes in the water or eating in or near the pool are prohibited at many facilities. Diving is allowed only in designated areas where the pool is deep enough for it to be safe, 10 to 12 feet.

"We [see] a lot of horseplay sometimes where they jump on each other," Stickles says of young patrons she encounters at the Strasburg Town Pool. This not only poses a threat to the children involved but also distracts the guard from watching the water, endangering others as well.

A lifeguard's job does not end with enforcing the rules, though.

"Part of the challenge is also staying outdoors and battling the heat," Asmussen says. For lifeguards, a hot, sunny day can be a job hazard which they must take into consideration so they can be their best at all times.

Lifeguards rotate from one location to another while watching the water and also take regular breaks to get out of the sun. They also encourage patrons to take a break from the heat and activity with regular adult swim times.

"We usually have an adult swim for 15 minutes [every hour]," Stickles says.

Asmussen stresses the need for applying sunscreen throughout the day as well to prevent severe sunburn. He recommends applying sunscreen before coming to the pool so that it has the time to soak into the skin. Otherwise, he says, the sunscreen will not only wash off skin, it will end up in the pool water.

The rules at each pool might seem extensive, but staff say that the point is for patrons to have a good time.

"We make a huge effort to be family friendly," Dreibelbis says.

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