In 2015, it will 20 years since the American Red Cross changed their policy for lifeguard training to equipment-based rescues (i.e., the rescue tube, etc.). Although this move to the rescue tube was initiated by Jeff Ellis and his National Pool & Waterpark Lifeguard Training course more than 5 years earlier and followed a few years later by YMCA On the Guard Lifeguarding, the change in 1995 by the American Red Cross saw equipment-based rescues become accepted almost universally at pools and waterparks throughout the United States.
Since this was such as major change, the American Red Cross selected 10 people to training as a National Faculty to teach rescue-tube rescues and the other changes to the rest of the country. The Red Cross had never done this before nor have they done it since.
I was fortunate enough to be selected as a National Facility member. We were charged with bringing the program to all other American Red Cross Instructors and Instructor-Trainers. I led trainings in Massachusetts and throughout Northern and Southern California.
Resistance to Change
There was some resistance to this change, especially from Los Angeles City and County (who do not use rescue tubes for pool lifeguard service to this day). They had some valid points for their objection:
- Having the rescue tube on a tower can be dangerous if the lifeguard does not control the tow line. (I have actually seen a lifeguard get snagged by the tow line as she was entering the water and subsequently injured by being pulled back and striking the tower and side of the pool.)
- Swimming with the rescue tube underneath the lifeguard slows the approach to the victim.
- Use of the rescue tube lowers the skill level of the lifeguard.
There were even predictions that the use of the rescue tube would so weaken lifeguard abilities that lifeguard service with rescue tubes would prove totally ineffectual. That, of course, has not happened.
How Lifeguard Service Has Improved
Most of today’s swimming pool and waterpark lifeguards were not alive when the cross-chest carry was. In those days, we learned a set of skills (e.g., the hair carry, the underwater approach, etc.) that were often not needed to effect swimming pool rescues. In most cases, a rear approach and an armpit carry was all that was needed. Adding the rescue tube simply added a barrier between the lifeguard and the victim and buoyancy to make handling the victim easier.
In fact, in the 25 years since the Jeff Ellis gave rescue tubes to his lifeguards and the nearly 20 years since the American Red Cross made the rescue tube essential and universal for lifeguard service in swimming pools and water parks in the United States, this service has remained strong (and, in some ways, has even gotten stronger).
After so many years, there can be no doubt that the rescue tube is an effective tool for the lifeguarding:
- It provides support and protection for lifeguards in deep water while transferring buoyancy to one or more victims.This prevents injury to the lifeguard as well as to the victim(s).
- For short distances, the extra time it takes with the rescue tube to reach the victim is negligible. For longer approaches, allowing the rescue tube to trail makes the approach nearly as fast.
- Returning with the victim on the rescue tube is faster and easier due to buoyancy cancelling some of the victim’s weight.
- Using the rescue tube for support helps during deep-water passive victim rescues, multiple victim rescues, spinal victim support and backboarding, and rescue breathing in the water.
- Use of the rescue tube also helps support swimming instructors while they work with learners in deep water.
Even the argument that the rescue tube allows less skilled swimmers to work as lifeguards ultimately supports the position that the rescue tube is beneficial. Swimming pools in many sizes and shapes require lifeguard service; less experienced and/or skilled lifeguards gravitate to smaller and shallower pools because they do not do as well on the swimming tests provided by pool operators. Still, these individuals find work at facilities where their swimming skills are more than enough, and the rescue tube still benefits them.
Old School and New
Now that a generation of equipment-based rescues has come and gone (and the world of lifeguarding has not come to an end), it may be important to remember that there are times when a lifeguard may be separated from his/her rescue tube and should know what to do. For example:
- When towing a victim back to safety, the lifeguard may lose the rescue tube. The lifeguard either retrieve and reposition the rescue tube or may elect to continue swimming the victim to safety.
- When making a submerged victim rescue or submerged spinal victim rescue, if the lifeguard must submerge deeper than the towline allows, the lifeguard must take it off completely. When the lifeguard brings the victim back to the surface, he/she may not be able to reach the rescue tube. If a second lifeguard is not available to reposition the rescue tube, the lifeguard should move to safety without the tube.
All swimming pool lifeguards should master a few basic skills to assist them when separated from the rescue tube. For example, repositioning the rescue tube, inserting the rescue tube under the armpits of another lifeguard, escapes, dive to the rear, towing techniques without the rescue tube, eggbeater kick, and even cross-chest carry. This helps to complete a swimming pool lifeguard’s preparation.
This is not to suggest that lifeguards should start a deep-water rescue without their rescue tube, rescue can, or rescue board. It is simply that, although all deep-water rescues should begin with the rescue tube or other appropriate equipment, they may not all end that way.