By: Dale Steinke

As lifeguards scanned the Don Nakata Memorial Pool at the Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center, swimmers completed laps, just as they normally do.

But in moments that routine changed for pool staff, when a man feeling chest pains pulled himself out of the water.

Almost immediately, lifeguard Taylor Walker spotted the man and alerted the head lifeguard on duty, Tyrone Kleim, as well as Megan Pleli, Aquatics Program Manager. Staff member David Wallace called 911. Lifeguard Lisa Claesson-Gordon cleared the patrons from the pool and kept the surrounding area under control.

Pleli and Kleim rushed over to the pool patron with an emergency first aid “go bag” and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

Kleim and Walker immediately began CPR as Pleli powered up the AED and applied the pads for monitoring. Front Office Specialist Marjorie LeMaster, who has advanced medical training, assisted the team. The staff completed cycles of CPR and administered the AED device until medics from the Bainbridge Island Fire & EMT Department arrived to take over.

Pleli credits the staff’s extensive Red Cross training in first aid and lifeguarding for enabling them to work as a unit. They knew what to do, despite the fact the emergency was a first-time experience for nearly all the staff working at the aquatic center on Jan. 20.

“Every second counts when you’re talking about responding. Being able to start CPR and having a functioning AED on site,” as the Bainbridge Aquatic Center did, was extremely important, according to Amanda Browe, Pacific Northwest Training Specialist. “The great thing about AEDs is that they can either be semi-automatic (requires the rescuer to push the shock button) or fully automatic (delivers the shock automatically), which means the responder is guided by the machine through the entire process. These clear and concise instructions during a very stressful situation allow the responder to act quickly, and time is the most important variable with regard to the possibility of a successful resuscitation.”

Browe manages 28 paid instructors and a handful of volunteers in Washington and Oregon who deliver first aid, CPR and AED training.


You have to have the knowledge to know how to use these tools and methods to be confident and effective, Browe said. “It really empowers people to be able to act and they can make that quick judgment because they’re prepared to respond.”

That emphasis on preparation is key to lifeguard training. Brian Hoffmeister, American Red Cross aquatic specialist, says the American Red Cross has been offering water safety training for more than 100 years, longer than any other program. Nationwide, more than 80 percent of public pools are watched over by Red Cross-trained lifeguards who go through a minimum of about 30 hours of training to be initially certified. About 200,000 lifeguards across the country go through this training every year.

“It starts with how to be professional. Then we go into how to keep people safe in and out of the water,” Hoffmeister said. That includes effective scanning of the pool area, in and out of the water, and zones of coverage between lifeguards. “Then we go into what happens if something goes wrong,” he added.

How do you rescue someone if they’re struggling a bit? How do you get someone out of the water if they’re actively drowning? How do you remove the unconscious individual from the water? Guards are also trained on the care that comes after that.

“Training never stops. For the lifeguards and for us,” Hoffmeister said, explaining that the Red Cross just released a lifeguard program update in January, something they do every five years. “We’re constantly trying to keep the lifeguard program information up to date with the latest science.”

As for the lifeguards taking the training, they’re certified for two years, but will do numerous in-service training sessions during that time.


Hoffmeister works closely with the Bainbridge staff and said he was very pleased with how they handled the situation. “Any time the staff responds and does what they’re supposed to, whether we have positive or negative outcomes, anytime the staff relies on their training and do what they’re supposed to do, we view that as a win,” he added.

Pleli credits the quality of the pool staff’s response on that extensive training. Besides encouraging staff to take additional training, the pool staff partake in regular in-service trainings featuring unique and challenging scenarios. They also do “white cap” drills in the pool in which “victims” wearing a white cap simulate everything from basic first aid to a full-blown CPR emergency.

Later this month, they’re hosting the American Red Cross, which is delivering the highest level of training for the instructors, a Water Safety Instructor Trainer and Lifeguard Instructor Trainer Academy. For information about other classes held across the country, visit the American Red Cross LifeguardTraining page.

“I want them to be able to respond to any situation that happens and know that they did well, regardless of the outcome,” Pleli said. “I want them to be able to sleep at night knowing they did a good job.”

And what of the outcome? Pleli spoke recently with the swimmer’s wife. Her husband, “is doing well”. She was very thankful and very optimistic and they’re looking forward to getting back into the pool.


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