Ask a lifeguard: How to keep kids from drowning during pool season

With people flooding pools to cope with the heat wave hitting southern Quebec, the pressure is on lifeguards to keep a close eye.

'If you see kids who are starting to grab each other, that's generally a sign that something is wrong'

Oliver Leiriao, 20, is a lifeguard, at the YMCA in Westmount. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

It's everyone's responsibility to look out for children in pools, particularly on days when the pool is crowded, says the head of the Quebec branch of the Lifesaving Society.

His comments follow the drowning of a six-year-old boy in the Montreal neighbourhood of Saint-Leonard on Monday evening.

Raynald Hawkins, the executive director of the society, said it's not solely the lifeguard's responsibility look out for people's safety.

"When I'm a lifeguard, I cannot supervise 50 patrons or users at the same time," he said.

When a lifeguard performs a visual sweep of the pool for signs of difficulty, the lifeguard's head may be turned away while a drowning is in progress outside of their field of vision.

Hawkins said drownings are silent and can happen between 15 and 20 seconds. For him, the rule of thumb for parent is that if a child is not within arm's reach, then the child isn't safe.
Oliver Leiriao says it's important for parents to keep watch over kids, even with a lifeguard present. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

Children get exhausted faster

For lifeguard Oliver Leiriao, 20, prevention is the best tool to prevent accidents.

"If you see kids who are starting to grab each other, that's generally a sign that something is wrong," Leiriao said.

"That's probably the scariest thing I've had to deal with."

Children tend to get exhausted faster than the average swimmer, Leiriao said, adding he can easily spot the ones aren't comfortable in the water.

If you see kids who are starting to grab each other, that's generally a sign that something is wrong.- Oliver Leiriao, lifeguard

Though a lifeguard was on duty the evening of the drowning, 40 to 50 children were reported to have been in the pool.

This is the minimum requirement outlined by the Régie du bâtiment for pools that are 150 square meters or smaller. The same goes when there are 50 people or fewer at a facility.

"If you're one guard, staring at the water for an hour, you lose focus," Leiriao said.

At the Westmount YMCA, where Leiriao has worked for the last two years, staff add pool noodles and other flotation devices to give something for the children to grab onto.
Life jackets and flotation devices are always a good idea for those who aren't strong swimmers.

Life jackets and flotation devices are also available for the less experienced, or swimmers who are susceptible to drowning.

"It's all about taking precautionary measures to make sure nothing bad happens because accidents happen all the time," Leiriao said.

Before making any recommendations in terms of changing procedure, the Lifesaving Society said it's waiting for the coroner's report and a report from the Régie du bâtiment to determine whether anything went wrong.

With files from Matt D'Amours