How are local swimming areas regulated for summer safety?

  • Aquatics Director Sarah Smith says the Greenfield YMCA’s swimming pool always has a lifeguard, usually two, on duty during pool hours to ensure safety. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2019 11:26:01 PM

Hollywood doesn’t always portray events in an accurate light.

Burning buildings are rarely, if ever, navigable for firefighters, and tears will not roll down your cheek when you cry in outer space. Also, someone in danger of drowning will likely not be heard flailing their arms and screaming for help. Instead, he or she will typically get pulled underneath the water’s surface quickly without making much of a sound.

“Usually, drowning is silent,” said Sarah Smith, aquatics director of the YMCA in Greenfield.

Smith said the Y always has a lifeguard, usually two, on duty during pool hours to prevent tragedies. The Y has 30 lifeguards on staff.

Lifeguarding has been thrust into the local limelight following an incident in which a 5-year-old boy nearly drowned at Camp Lion Knoll in Leyden on June 24. The child, who has not been identified, was pulled from a pool shortly before 3 p.m. by Tina Riddell, a Leyden police sergeant working as a lifeguard at the camp, who immediately began administering CPR, according to Leyden Police Chief Dan Galvis. He said the child became responsive and his vital signs improved on the way to Baystate Franklin Medical Center, where his parents met him. The boy was then airlifted to a different hospital.

“It’s a difficult job, to be a lifeguard,” Smith said. “Every situation is different.”

Smith said she has reached out to support Riddell, who Smith said was trained as a lifeguard at the YMCA in Greenfield.

Smith explained there are different requirements for different lifeguard certifications. She said the Y follows American Red Cross guidelines. To get into the lifeguarding program, Smith said aspiring lifeguards must be able to swim 300 yards continuously; tread water for two minutes using only their legs; and dive into the shallow end of a 10-foot-deep pool, pick up a 10-pound brick and swim it back to the shallow portion in less than 1 minute, 40 seconds. Smith also said lifeguards are certified in first aid and CPR.

The program is offered once a year in early spring, because most organizations hire their lifeguards by the end of May. Anyone interested in enrolling in the program can call 413-773-3646, ext. 427. The YMCA also offers swimming lessons. People can sign up in the building’s Welcome Center.

Steven Rickman, executive director of The Girls Club of Greenfield, which offers Camp Lion Knoll, said he recommended temporarily shutting down the camp’s pool following the near-drowning. He said he is awaiting final reports from the Leyden Board of Health and the state Department of Public Health.

Rickman explained any camp with a swimming area must have a water safety instructor and lifeguards based on the number of campers.

Greenfield Recreation Director Christy Moore said no one should ever swim alone. She said there are always lifeguards on duty when the public is swimming at any of the three beach areas at the Green River Swimming & Recreation Area, which is open seven days a week during the summer.

Moore said the recreation department’s lifeguards are usually high school or college students from the area. She said anyone interested in becoming a Greenfield lifeguard can contact the department at 413-772-1553, though most of the hiring is done in the early spring.

“No one under 16 is hired,” she said. “That’s our policy.”

She also said it is a lifeguard’s responsibility to get their colleagues’ attention by blowing a whistle when they see someone in distress, and then to deploy one of several types of rescue techniques. She also said it is the duty of a lifeguard to ensure people follow the rules.

“Mother Nature constantly changes the depth of the river, which can make it dangerous,” she explained.

Moore said only U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets are used on the Green River.

Those same types of life jackets are used by customers at Crab Apple Whitewater, which operates in Charlemont as well as Vermont and Maine. Speaking from the company’s Maine office, co-owner Robert Peabody explained there is a protocol to follow if you fall out of a raft. Peabody said guests are instructed to not try to swim, but rather to float on their backs with their feet out of the water and pointed downstream. He said this prevents people from getting a foot caught beneath the water.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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