This story in the Bloomington Pantagraph sends a shiver of horror through me. A 13-year-old boy died after being pulled from a the bottom of a YWCA pool in Bloomington Monday.
As a former lifeguard and pool manager, I'm horrified. I think it's because something like this could happen anywhere - and can always be prevented.
During my six summers working at two area pools, I learned to watch out for large groups of kids that came with babysitters and summer camps. Some chaperones were notorious for letting kids do whatever they wanted. Inevitably, some of the non-swimmers would drift toward deep water, especially older ones following their friends who could swim.
It happens all the time. My very first rescue was a 13-year-old who went down a water slide, thinking the water underneath would be shallow. He did that right after his twin brother had to be pulled out of the pool under the same slide.
One summer when I was in high school, I pulled 15 kids out of the pool - many who weren't being properly supervised. One problem is that parents and chaperones expect lifeguards to be their kids' babysitters.
It is lifeguards' job to watch out for kids who can't swim well. We learned to notice them and tell them to stay in water where they could touch the bottom. It was a constant topic at our staff training sessions.
I'm not assigning blame - not on the lifeguards or the Boys and Girls Club chaperone who pulled the boy up from the bottom of the pool. I can't imagine the guilt they must be feeling right now.
But honestly, drowning in pools is totally preventable if both lifeguards and chaperones are doing their jobs. I feel sorry for the woman quoted in the story who expressed regret that she didn't see him first.
"If I had known he was right there - I was right by him - I could've dived down and brought the little guy up," she told The Pantagraph.
She's going to live with that feeling - that she should have done something - for the rest of her life. But it wasn't her job to be watching out for other people swimming in the pool, especially not when a lifeguard was on duty.
I guess the point I'm trying to make that even the best swimmers can grow tired. Even the tallest kids who don't swim can't touch the bottom in 9-foot depths. It's parents, chaperones and lifeguards' responsibility to make sure it doesn't happen again.