Preparing Guards to Respond to an Aquatic Medical Event

When a medical event occurs, equipping your guards with the knowledge and skills they need to identify and respond to a medical event in a timely manner is critical for a positive outcome. As we continue to protect non-swimmers in our pools, it is equally as important to train, practice and empower your lifeguards to intervene if a medical event is suspected.

Based on our medical event investigations, we have compiled some of our insights, so that you can prepare your guards to identify and quickly respond to these events.

What types of medical events do we typically see in this environment?

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Seizures

While most who experience these medical events are in the older population, it’s important that your guards know any age swimmer can experience a medical event.

What signs do we typically see when a swimmer is experiencing a medical event?

Many medical event victims tend to be frequent pool users that the lifeguards see often.  When the lifeguard on duty describes what happened after a medical event, it is common for them to say, “I noticed their behavior was different than usual.” Any noticeable change in behavior can mean something is wrong and should be followed-up by the guard.

We also hear often that the victim appeared to be taking a break, slowing down, or stopping to sit on the stairs for an extended period of time. This is important for guards to understand, as many of us think anyone experiencing a medical event would be clutching their chest, shaking or convulsing.

“Dead man’s float” is another very common sign of a medical event. This is one of the most difficult for guards to identify because many children and even adults will do the “dead man’s float” to relax, or just for fun. It is critical for aquatic directors to be clear that the “dead man’s float” (floating face down) is not allowed in the pool at any time.

How can I prepare my pool and aquatic staff to identify these events and respond quickly?

  1. Remind guards that swimmers may not be as conditioned as they were before the pandemic and frequently review the different signs of a medical event that are outlined above.
  2. Enforce a pool rule that prohibits the dead man’s float. Practice with guards how they should approach a swimmer who is engaging in the dead man’s float. This rule will give the guard something to refer to and be able to explain why it is prohibited at your pool.
  3. Empower guards to act when something doesn’t feel right, or if they notice a change in behavior. If a swimmer who usually swims laps every day is slowing down and taking a longer-than-usual break, tell guards to go check on them and make sure everything is okay. Praise them when they do this, so it becomes the norm for your guards to act in any case of doubt.
  4. Ensure you have the proper equipment to be able to adequately respond to a medical event. For example, keep your AED and oxygen together in one crash bag so that when an emergency does arise, staff are able to grab items easier.
  5. Provide in-service training that mimics a medical event. This will allow your guards to practice the care that is needed in these types of events. It also serves as a reminder that these events do happen and need to be identified quickly. See sample in-service training below. 

We encourage you to review the information above with your guards in addition to our additional resources below. 

Thank you for all you do to keep your community safe. 

Additional Resources