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Last week I was delivering a lifeguard update at a centre that I’ve had a long history with and, making sure training remains fresh and engaging is a challenge.

After a few hours in the training room making sure we were clear on the theory, we headed for the pool hall to putting it into practice with a high fidelity simulation.

Like I said, I’ve drilled this team pretty well over the years, so they’re used to my usual tricks. I need to up the ante.

The first scenario simulated an unconscious, not breathing child locked in a shower cubicle in the change rooms. The team were allowed a three-person lifeguard team and a duty supervisor.

I purposely put the most junior lifeguard into the breech, becoming the first responder. It is the toughest role. It develops their cognitive skills. I choose a slightly more experienced lifeguard to be the second responder. Two minds are better than one, and if the first lifeguard is making a mess of it, I want to see the second responder straighten things out.

We started the scenario and after the lifeguard’s second lap around the pool looking for someone on the bottom, he stood there staring at the pool, his brain trying to comprehend what the hell was going on. Still looking at my stop watch, I said quietly ‘it’s a big centre’. The penny dropped, he took off for the change rooms.

It was a good scenario.

  • What means do you have to unlock a cubicle door at short notice?
  • Will your method of raising the alarm work from within your change room?
  • What challenges does the confines of the room’s layout pose for delivering CPR?
  • What challenges does the echo chamber effect have on communication and hearing an AED?
  • In an interesting twist… what would you team do if the AED started to malfunction?

Like I said it was a good scenario.

For the second scenario I decided on a double drowning event; a double CPR. I hadn’t done one for years and having the centre’s manikin as well as mine meant, we could do it.

If you think CPR is difficult, you’re right and double CPR is hell on earth. Splitting your team and all your resources is excruciating.

Even experienced lifeguards struggle. Here’s a 40 second flash back to March 2017 when the Waverly Team tackled one at Bondi.

For this scenario I threw their most experienced lifeguard into the Duty Supervisor role. This is the kind of person we need to extend. They’re ready for it.

After the casualty was detected and a suitable response was unfolding it was about the 5-minute mark when a woman screamed, alerting the team to another child face down in the water at the other end of the pool.

The team split with two doing airbag CPR with oxygen at one end of the facility and two doing mouth to mask at the other. Both teams occasionally glancing at each other. One team feeling the pressure of having lost their leader.

The pool hall is under cameras and I suggested to the Duty Supervisor that in the event of a fatality, we didn’t really want the ensuing footage to show one casualty getting a better chance at survival than the other. He kept working. I could see his brain straining. The sweat was literally running off his face in rivulets.

I added ‘I think you’ve got 3 options. You can keep doing what you’re doing, you can take your casualty and all the equipment to the other two lifeguards, or you can get them and their casualty to come to you’.

He realised one was going to be easier and yelled to the other team, who quickly moved their casualty. From there they laid their casualties side by side and started to use the one airbag to inflate both. It started out a bit rough but the longer they persisted the more coordinated and effective they became.

It’s taxing and exhausting and, it can be done. Is it a guarantee of a successful outcome? No. Is it doing everything reasonably practical to prevent an injury or death? Surely.

Double immersions are rare. I only know of three in Australia, the one at Bondi and another two at aquatic centres. They’re rare…and we need a plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail.