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If I see another experienced lifeguard doing ‘cpr’ on a manikin while melodically calling ‘one- one thousand, two- one thousand, three- one thousand’… I might be the one they have to roll over to clear the vomit.

This is great for teaching lifeguards correct technique and timing, but it doesn’t prepare them for the real thing. The real thing is horrible, yucky, violent, and confronting.

I also think that experienced lifeguards are bored to death of being taught DRSABCD in a strictly theoretical manner.

Last year I developed what I’m calling Hi Fidelity Scenario Training and demand has quickly grown.

It’s training that recreates as many aspects of an actual emergency response as practical. It’s training that gets lifeguards familiar with what it’s like to work in the Red Zone (flight, fight, freeze mode). It’s not a nice place to work and, can be a bit counterproductive. Their bodies are preparing them to run, fight or freeze none of which are terribly useful to us during an actual response.

Working in the Red Zone is about trying to be effective, while your body is undergoing some stressful changes. You’ll have an elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, you’ll be breathing faster, you might fell a pressing down feeling on your chest, you might get tunnel vision of tunnel hearing. These are all well documented responses. If Red Bull could put adrenaline in a can they would.

If you’re a lifeguard you have the added dimensions of being wet or working in an area that is slippery and wet, and people around you also in a highly emotional state.

Like I said, it is not a nice place to work. Having said that I’m yet to meet a lifeguard, who despite serious concerns before the training, doesn’t leave the scene, puffing and blowing and saying ‘we should do that more often’. They love it, they crave it; it’s what drew them to the role in the first place. It builds confidence. ‘We can do this!’… Yes, you can do this!

The initial part of the training is spent talking about the basic framework of emergency response i.e. recognise, raise the alarm & respond. That’s the basics of what I want to see in the scenario. Then we begin to include the site-specific aspects of their organisations procedures to that framework. This builds anticipation big time.

Most lifeguards know they’re not that good at their stuff and so they put themselves under a great deal of pressure. There’s no need to bark orders at them. They create the pressure.

I also let them know that it’s ok to make mistakes. In fact I want them to make mistakes; ‘if we have a golden run out there today ladies, we’ll learn nothing’.

There will be mistakes, as there will be during the real thing, and what I really want to see is lifeguards recovering from mistakes. If you make a mistake, have another go, and keep going until you get it right. You don’t have the option of saying I’ve had enough now.

Lifeguards need to know how to deal with foam and vomit. They need to be confident that the cheap arse trauma sheers in their AED will actually cut a wet shirt. They need to know that BVMs are great and, if you can’t get effective inflation of the chest, then you might have to go back to mouth to mask as part of your fault-finding process. Lifeguards need to know that it’s normal to think your casualty is going to die or are dead. Why? Not breathing, blue and eyes rolled back isn’t helping!

It’s become my new favourite session. It’s so satisfying watching a small group of lifeguards become a team. Five minutes in the thick of it they come off the boil a bit; the communication starts, the muscle memory clicks, the good decision making begins. I love it; I want to hug them!

In the Red Zone, simple tasks become extremely challenging. If you want confident, competent, well prepared lifeguards, they need to spend time in their Red Zone.