I know we will be getting a lot of backlash and negative comments about this blog because our opinions are probably in the minority as we are rocking the traditional water safety boat. We do however believe that what we have to say is extremely important and should be analyzed objectively by those who read it.
More and more actual drowning scenarios are being caught on security cameras but unfortunately, only lawyers and expert witnesses typically get to see them; water safety advocates who need to see them, don’t. Most of the videos cannot be made public because of confidentiality agreements signed by both parties. We are a few of the fortunate ones that have the opportunity to view these significant videos as a part of lawsuits. But what these videos of actual drownings reveal is surprising, startling, and significant. We have watched numerous total non-swimmers traverse swimming pools in wild, frantic displays that are unique and diverse. One boy pirouettes across the pool kind of like a Spinner Dolphin or a gymnast doing horizontal jumping jacks. Another performs a wild, frantic upside down butterfly with arms coming high out of the water in an attempt to stay afloat. This same victim then spins his arms alternately out of the water in a wild crawl stroke, again with arms high but goes nowhere except eventually to the bottom. Still yet another pushes off bottom of the pool and ballistically comes way out of the water like a Polaris Missile until he fatigues and drowns. And finally, very small children simply drown face down flat, horizontally on the surface with little or no movement.
What these actual drowning videos show us is that we really cannot predict how potential drownees will act when they are fighting for their lives. We worry that if we continue to teach our lifeguards and parents the traditional signs and symptoms of drowning victims that have been taught for decades, they may create a mental picture of a drowning victim that does not match reality. As a result, our teachings may be counterproductive. While some drowning victims do in fact display a vertical posture with head back, weak kick and arms groping just below the surface, many do not. We do agree that drowning is silent and we do agree with the RID Factor. However, more and more security camera footage illustrates that drowning may not be as instinctive as we have been teaching. As Dr. John Hunsaker has stated, “Victims don’t go to Drowning School,” and apparently they have not read our texts. What we have evidenced on these videos is a variety of frantic, erratic movements in the water lacking meaningful purpose or direction. This piece is not intended to make light of drowning scenarios and the resulting tragedies. Nor is it intended to criticize our colleagues who have worked so diligently to save lives. Our hope is that as technology grows in swimming pools we may be able to scrutinize actual drowning footage to better protect people and save lives. Finding these videos and sharing them whenever possible is the first difficult step in the process.