The importance of a lifeguard response to water related natural disasters

TitleThe importance of a lifeguard response to water related natural disasters
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsEsparza, D, Albers, B
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other Numbers03-35

­Background: Many of the rescue teams that respond to water related natural disasters in the United States are from fire protection agencies rather than lifeguard agencies. Mainly due to the fact that fire protection agencies are high profile rescue resources worldwide. By default firefighters have become the “experts” in the aquatic environment simply because there are few if any other strictly water rescue agencies such as lifeguards available to respond. However, the vast majority of firefighters are not trained to make rescues in the water environment as are lifeguards. Rescue in the aquatic environment, whether it be still water, surf, urban flood, or rivers requires knowledge of the dynamics of each, and the ability to survive in each.

Result: Firefighters are put at undue risk to themselves and to the public. Given the opportunity, lifeguards have the experience and proper equipment to conduct a successful operation in an aquatic natural disaster such as floods and hurricanes. In swiftwater especially, rescuers are often required to enter moving water and depend on their swimming ability alone to affect a rescue and not endanger themselves. During the Katrina operation of 2005 the San Diego Lifeguard Swiftwater Rescue Team was the only Lifeguard agency deployed. Due to the forward thinking of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, a Lifeguard component responded with California Task Force 8 Urban Search and Rescue Team. The rationale was that they had enough fire personnel for foot searches and land based house to house evacuations, but no water experts with water rescue equipment such as specialized boats and dry suits. We provided that aspect and were invaluable for accessing flooded areas and swimming to otherwise inaccessible locations for search and rescue.

Conclusion: Lifeguards are experienced in the water and as such can make informed decisions pertaining to the rescue before and during the operation. Without a strong swimming ability, rescue in the swift water environment can become a futile effort.

Learning Outcomes
  1. The importance of training lifeguard services in swiftwater rescue.
  2. How the San Diego Lifeguards became part of the California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.
  3. The need for political backing within regional governments.
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