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What’s the most important piece of lifesaving equipment you have at your pool? Automatic External Defibrillator? Oxy resuscitator? Rescue tube? Most things that spring to mind are high tech and cost a fair amount of money.

What about your whistle?

Whistles really hit their straps in 1878 when Acme made the first whistles for referees. Prior to then, ref’s used their handkerchief to signal players. In 1884 Scotland Yard took up the contraption and we’ve never looked back.

I’m a volunteer firefighter with the NSW Rural Fire Service. I never step onto a fire ground without a whistle. You hear that thing blowing and need to get back to the truck quickly. The stakes have become too high and we’re out of here.

A whistle is a God send in any kind of emergency. It’s survival 101 stuff.

The same for lifeguards. When you realise that things have gone pear shaped the first thing you need to do, before jumping in, is make sure help is on its way. This can be done the old fashioned way, yelling or the new-fangled way, two-way radio. Both work fine but both have limitations.

A pool is a noisy place, especially indoors. Yelling might not be heard over all those kids. The same for a radio crackling to life on your hip.

Lately I’ve had the opportunity to analysing a few videos of Australian pool lifeguards performing real rescues. Often the radio message is desperately short and there is no option for you to repeat it, because you’re already in the drink and your radio is… well, kaput.

There’s a thousand reasons why a radio might not do the job when you need it to. They go flat, the volume can be down too low, it’s not turned on, it’s on the wrong channel or they just plain old stop working. No doubt good pre-shift checking procedures can manage most of these, but manage the problems is all we can do; we can’t eliminate them.

A whistle is a sure fire Plan B or, like my fire ground example, plan A. No need to think about what to say, just blow! Nothing comes more naturally when your blood’s fairly up.

In relation to exercising due diligence, how do you reckon you’d go without a $5 whistle in your pocket? I just bought a new one that’s reported to emit 115 decibels.

Regardless of what method you use to raise the alarm you’ll be hard pressed to beat the humble whistle.