As pools across the province reopen in the midst of a pandemic, lifeguards are learning new skills and learning to use new equipment that will allow them to save lives while staying safe themselves.
By necessity, saving lives in a pool requires that lifeguards will come in contact with the people they are helping. Administering CPR also means mouth-to-mouth contact, an activity that is extremely risky.
"Even the perception of COVID is scary ... it's changed how we interact with people," said Paul Wechselberger, founder of the Lifeguard Outreach Society. "So these additional precautions are going to make people feel ... safer."
Wechselberger has spent the summer touring pools around B.C., giving instruction on some of the tweaks and changes lifeguards will have to make in order to lower, and in some cases, eliminate that risk. On Sept. 11, he led a seminar at the Earl Mah Aquatic Centre in Prince Rupert on how to use a bag valve mask and a manual suction device.
The bag valve mask connects a face mask to a clear, football-shaped pump that can be used to assist a patient's breathing once they are out of the water. In a life-saving scenario, one lifeguard would do chest compressions while the other pumps air with the bag valve. If necessary, the valve can also be attached to an oxygen tank.
Similarly, the manual suction device operates like a giant syringe, allowing lifeguards to remove vomit or other objects from a victim's mouth without coming into physical contact with them.
"Using a bag valve mask like this is going to keep my head as the rescuer farther away from the victim so I'm going to be safer," said Wechselberger.
In addition to new equipment, lifeguards are being taught newer procedures to help maintain physical separation from swimmers in emergency situations. Lifeguards will use gloves, face shields and surgical masks in the event of a rescue. Cleaning and disinfecting will also be an important part of the process.
Perhaps most critical, however, will be getting pool users accustomed to the new rules. The Early Mah Aquatic Centre is only allowing 20 pre-registered swimmers in at once, swimmers will have to arrive at the pool ready to swim, and only deck showers will be available for use.
Additionally, only swimmers exiting the pool will be allowed to use the change rooms, and only a limited number of swimmers will be allowed in at one time.
For lifeguards like Prince Rupert's Jasmine Ryley however, taking the time to ease into the new rules and procedures will be worth the effort.
"We can't get upset," Ryley said. "People are going to get upset with the new rules, but it is what it is until further notice."