After Drowning, Niles-MG Pools Stress Safety

Neither has many private camps coming to its pools; the 4-year-old who drowned in a Glenview pool was with a private day camp.

UPDATED June 26 at 12:30 a.m. with additional Morton Grove Park District information.

The drowning of a 4-year-old in a Glenview Park District pool 10 days ago has shaken staff and officials at neighboring park districts.

Joe LoVerde, executive director of Niles Park District, and Brian Sullivan, executive director of Morton Grove Park District, said they're being vigilant about safety in the wake of young Vicente Cardenas' drowning at Glenview's Roosevelt Pool on June 15.

Earlier: Drowned boy's family looks for answers

Cardenas was a camper at Wesley Child Care camp, a private camp. Both Niles and Morton Grove Park Districts have mainly their own campers coming to their pools; Morton Grove gets one private camp at each of its two pools, but both districts have rules in place requiring private camp children to be supervised.

"Since this unfortunate incident, I'm spending more time (at Oasis Fun Center pool), said Joe LoVerde, executive director of the Niles Park District. "Every time I hear that (lifeguard's) whistle go off, my heart stops." 

Sometimes, lifeguards blow their whistles because a child is under water trying to see how long they can hold their breath, but the lifeguards err on the side of caution, he said.

Niles Park District camps maintain a ratio of one counselor to every six campers, though the law requires only a 1:8 ratio, LoVerde said. Consequently, there are more eyes to watch campers in the pool.

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Before Cardenas drowned, LoVerde added extra lifeguards this season because of the heat wave, he said. 

"We've never been below the minimum, so now we're overstaffed," he said. "We're going to keep it that way through the summer."

In Morton Grove, Sullivan said the lifeguards at Oriole and Harrer pools were reently audited by aquatics consultant Ellis & Associates, which makes unannounced visits to evaluate the lifeguards' skills and responsiveness. Lifeguards at both pools received an "exceeds standards" rating.

"Our lifeguards take their jobs incredibly seriously," Sullivan said. "We like the fact that (Ellis auditing) is a stringent program."

Both get mostly park district campers

Sullivan said the Morton Grove Park District gets one private camp each during open swim at Harrer and Oriole pools. Employees check to make sure there is at least one counselor for every eight campers, and they require the counselors to be in the water with their kids.

Morton Grove Park District campers come to the pool in the late morning, before Harrer Park opens to the public at noon and Oriole opens at 1 p.m. 

In Niles, LoVerde said no private camps have come to the pool so far this year. In the Niles Park District camps, lifeguards test children's swimming ability and give yellow wristbands to beginners, blue wristbands to intermediate swimmers and red bands to qualified swimmers. That helps keep lifeguards aware of what swimmers' abilities are.

Lifeguards make rotations

At the Niles pool, Kelly Buchanan, an aquatic manager, said 12 lifeguards work on every shift, and shifts are five hours long.

They work in two groups of six lifeguards each. The lifeguards in each six-person group rotate chairs every 20 minutes, and one is always on break.

Every hour, swimmers under age 18 must come out of the water for a 15-minute safety break, and nine lifeguards also go on break.

"Every lifeguard gets a 20-minute break every three hours and a 15 minute break every hour," Buchanan said. "At all times, there are (at least) two guards on break so if there's an aquatic emergency, we have the primary responder and two others to assist."

In Morton Grove, seven lifeguards are on duty during every shift at Oriole Pool, while eight are an duty at Harrer, because an additional guard watches the water at the base of the slide.  Two managers are also onsite with each shift, Sullivan said.

Morton Grove lifeguards must complete four hours of in-service training each month, and managers continue to train lifeguards by floating mannequins in the pool during open swim hours, which the lifeguards must rescue.

Advice to swimmers

If pool-goers see a swimmer who's in trouble and may need help, Buchanan advised the best thing to do is shout to the lifeguard. 

For those who may find themselves in a private pool with no lifeguards on duty, Buchanan says her staff teaches kids, "Reach or throw, don't go." In other words, they should reach out a hand or object to a swimmer in trouble, or toss a flotation device.

For those who spot an unconscious swimmer, she said, get them out of the water immediately and call for emergency help.

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