In the September 2009 editorial by Gary Thill, “The Price of Heroism”, Gary makes some great points and while I agree with him, there are some additional issues involved. Here are two more factors that directly impact the editorials theme:
1. From the editorial: “2009 maybe one of the deadliest drowning years on record”. Undoubtedly there are many factors that influence drowning, but unfortunately, one may have just been created by the federal government recently, The VGB Act. The implementation process for the VGB Act maybe the direct cause of drowning deaths this year and in future years. As the spring approached this last season, I wrote an OP ED piece for the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (JOPERD) titled “New Federal Pool Law Creates Controversy and Unintended Risks to Kids.” (April, 2009) Through local conversations and discussions with other aquatic professionals, it was clear to me that many pools would not be in compliance with the VGB Act and have to open late or not at all. This means fewer children have the opportunity to learn to swim. Is it any wonder that the drowning rates are on a path for a record year?
While the intent of the Act has important value, the knee jerk reaction by law makers, specifically on the Acts implementation, will cost children’s lives. In the JOPERD article, I pointed to recent statistics presented by NSPF CEO Thomas Lachocki from a 2008 media release about the Act; “Suction entrapment claims about one or two victims per year based on historic CPSC data, in contrast, drowning claimed the lives of 761 children aged 14 and under in 2004.” Additionally, In a CPSC webinar on January 13, 2009, the agency reported that from 1999 to 2007 there were 2 entrapment fatalities at public pools and spas. The agency reported 7 entrapment fatalities in residential pools and spas in the same period. It should be noted, that the Acts namesake incident took place in a residential location and that existing residential facilities do not have to comply with the VGB Act.
The VGB Act has lead to the closure or delayed openings of facilities nationwide due to both real and perceived legal consequences for operating pools out of compliance standards. Yet other operators use the Act as the excuse not to open and or reduce operation budgets in these tough financial times……Who suffers? Children.
2. Individual responsibility: Not only a management change in philosophy in this country (as Gary indicates) but the public too…..maybe not just increased pay but personal accountability. Three years ago I was in Germany surveying public facilities and water park style attractions…..In my opinion, they are where we were 30 years ago for lifeguard operations…..very few guards per body of water, if any….with very little rescue equipment, if anything other than general First Aid kits. I found the guards were proud of their swimming prowess ( i.e. defunct “watermanship” here), I also found that patrons paid close attention to their children, novel concept. I also noticed, that kids and adults alike did not have the attitude that just because a feature was present and available for use, like 10M platforms, the un-skilled did not use them…..maybe the idea that if I hurt myself doing something that I do not understand, it IS MY fault….could that be?
I dearly hope that my impressions and gut instincts are wrong about submersion incidents relating to deaths. I also hope that an ounce of common sense and the national involvement of aquatic professionals for the development of legislation prevail in the future.