Staying on guard
Even though there is still snow on the ground, in a blink of the eye it will be summer.
So in preparation for summer safety, Larry Flaws, assistant director at Fuller Hall, is busy teaching the next crop of lifeguards.
It is a job he’s done for the past 25 years.
Flaws was first employed at Fuller Hall in 1977 when he was still in high school. Then a few years later, when he wasn’t much older than his students, he began teaching lifeguard training.
“I was 15 when I first came to Fuller Hall. It was my first job,” he says. “And it has been my only job”.
Teaching approximately 30 young adults the Red Cross Lifeguard Instruction course every year, Flaws estimates that he has taught hundreds of students. Course graduates serve as lifeguards not only in Webster City, but throughout the Hamilton County area.
A lifeguard candidate must be at least 15 years of age and pass a vigorous physical test to qualify for instruction, explains Flaws.
The physical portion of the course tests a person’s endurance and strength with three components of the test, says Flaws. Candidates must be able to swim continuously for 300 meters and they must be able to tread water for ten minutes using only their legs.
The most strenuous portion of the test requires a person to be able to swim from the swallow end of the 25 meter pool to the deep end where they must dive and retrieve a ten pound brick underwater. After resurfacing, they must return to the shallow end, swimming on their back using only their legs.
“It is a pretty hard prerequisite,” he said.
The entire lifeguard course is comprised of 24 hours of instruction which includes classroom work and in-pool techniques. Classroom instruction includes 10 hours of First Aid, CPR, AED (Auto External Defibrillator) and verbal instruction on lifesaving techniques.
Following the classroom portion of the three-hour weekly class, students don their swimsuits and slip into the pool to apply those techniques in the water, he said.
Once in the water, the students splash around prior to technique instruction but horseplay is absent.
“That is a big pet peeve,” says Flaws, who stresses the serious nature of a lifeguard’s job.
Over the years, many of the components of the Red Cross Lifeguard class have changed as safety and rescue focus has changed, said Flaws.
“First of all, it has become more hands-on with person-to-person contact,” says Flaws.
The application of Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) has changed over the years, he says.
In years past, there were different ratios of compressions to breaths for baby, child and adults. Today, the compression/breath ratio for every person is 30 compressions to two breaths with a difference in the force of breath administered to a young person versus an adult, he notes.
Within the last 20 years, a rescue tube has been introduced during the retrieval, he says.
“There were instances of double drownings,” explains Flaws. This happened when a victim would panic and a lifeguard would be unable to overcome the situation. “The rescue tube is designed not only to save the victim but to protect the lifeguard”.
According to the American Red Cross, the flotation device can be used several ways. It can be positioned between the victim and the lifeguard and helps keep the victim’s head above water. It can also used to retrieve a submerged swimmer and bring them back to the surface. From the side of the pool, the rescue tube can be thrown as a lifeline to a struggling swimmer who can then grab it and be pulled to safety.
“The rescue tube has been huge,” Flaws says of the impact the device has had in lifeguarding.
The Automated External Defibrillator (AED) has been another addition to the arsenal of lifesaving techniques available to lifeguards, says Flaws. The portable electronic device is used to reestablish an effective heart rhythm immediately following rescue.
Flaws teaches three sessions of lifeguard classes annually. Two are held in the spring at Fuller Hall while another is held at the Webster City Outdoor Municipal Swimming Pool at the beginning of the summer season, he says.
Once a candidate receives certification, they attend weekly in-service training throughout the summer, explains Flaws.
Lifeguard certification is good for two years and can be renewed with continuing education classes, he says. As an instructor, Flaws must also update his certification bi-annually which can be done through on-line classes.
Despite the fact that he teaches a water-related course, Flaws admits he seldom gets wet.
“I have had to jump in maybe three or four times to save people, but most of my work is done from the deck,” says Flaws.
Flaws noted that lifeguard classes are another step in a revolving circle of instruction and safety courses offered through the Webster City Recreation and Public Grounds Department program.
The final step is that every summer, the Fuller Hall certified lifeguards teach Red Cross Swimming Lessons to over 300 area youth.
Webster City and Fuller Hall have long partnered with the American Red Cross to teach lifeguard skills and swimming lessons to area youth, says Flaws.
“The lifeguards teach the kids, just as they were taught when they were young,” he says.
While indoor swimming lessons, including Aquatot classes for children under the age of five, are offered during the Spring and Fall at Fuller Hall, most of the swimming classes are held during the summer session outdoors.
At Webster City’s Municipal Pool, children ages 5-13, are taught swimming skills and water safety during four weeks every summer, says Flaws. Over the years, swimmers can advance through six levels of swimming proficiency.
Registration for Fuller Hall summer activities will begin in May and will include swimming lessons, swim team and youth activities such as softball, Pee Wee baseball and tennis, says Flaws.
Flaws keeps tabs on the success of his lifeguard students throughout the years. He notes that while there are usually 2-3 instances at area pools, there have been no drownings reported.
“That is our greatest fear every year,” he admits. “But we teach them to swim so that the pool is a safer place”.