In the few minutes before the pool clears out after each swim session, Hood River Aquatic Center lifeguards are particularly wary of swimmers who have been in the water for nearly an hour, tiring themselves out.
“It was clearing out by that point because it was near the end of the swim,” said Aquatic Center Supervisor Janelle Mudder of the environment at the pool on Tuesday, July 27. “But that’s when people are most tired and don’t realize it.”
In the deep end of the pool at around quarter to 5 that day, a 15-year-old was playing with friends. The lifeguards began paying close attention when he visibly began to tire. Then he slipped under the surface and didn’t come back up.
As the boy’s friends called for help, lifeguard Wendell Barton let out three blasts on his whistle.
Barton’s triple-blast triggers the pool’s emergency response protocol, and lets the rest of the lifeguards know that a possible drowning victim is in the pool.
“His friends were telling me he didn’t come back up so I went over and jumped in,” Barton said.
Within seconds the 18-year-old recent HRV grad was in the pool, pulling the young man to the surface and dragging him to the pool deck.
“I don’t even remember what happened until I got him out of the water,” Barton said.
While Barton got the non-responsive swimmer out of the water, the rest of the lifeguard pool was also jumping into action.
Guards Kylie and Connor Webb began clearing everyone out of the pool and off the pool deck, Nathan McCaw dialed 9-1-1 and Rebekah Galvez and Tommy Tyynismaa went to comfort the boy’s family.
“Training takes over after going over it so many times in practice — it’s just instinct,” McCaw said.
As Barton got the boy onto the deck, Mudder arrived and the pair began performing CPR.
After a few rounds of CPR the boy began making noises and coughing up water.
As he regained consciousness, EMTs arrived from the fire station directly across the hallway.
Firefighters had been outside of the station doing training when they heard shouts for help from the pool and arrived on scene before they were even alerted by emergency dispatchers.
With the boy conscious, care was transferred to the emergency responders, who transported the boy (whos name has not been released) to the hospital, where he was reportedly expected to make a complete recovery.
“They did a great job reassuring us we had done our jobs. It’s really important from a management standpoint that the training we’ve put into every staff member is a practical use,” Mudder said of the EMTs who responded to the pool.
On Tuesday the pool hosted a pizza get together for all the lifeguards, with Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells on hand to honor the staff which was on shift that day.
“When a lot of people think about public safety professionals they think about firefighters, police officers, the military, EMTs. They always forget about lifeguards. You guys are definitely part of the public safety community,” Wells said. “Don’t forget that.”
Wells said that all of the responders he had talked to after the incident were “highly impressed” with how the lifeguards handled the situation.
“You guys got him breathing again, care was taken care of and it was very professional,” he said.
For the young lifeguards, all of whom are either current high school students or recent graduates, the incident was the first time any of them have had to put their CPR or emergency response skills to use.
“Not that intense,” Barton said of situations he had faced before. “I’ve pulled people out of the pool but nothing like that.”
Barton is in his fourth year lifeguarding at the pool before heading off to Montana State University for college in the fall.
When he began performing CPR on the swimmer after getting him to the pool deck it was the first time he had performed it on an actual person; before it had only been on dummies.
He was not even two hours into a six-hour shift when he made the save, and said he was amped up the rest of the day.
“It was quite a wake-up call,” he said.
For the other lifeguards the incident served as a reminder that they may be called upon to put their training to use at any time.
“Never let your guard down,” McCaw said. “Because something can happen just like that.”
Mudder was proud of the way her lifeguards responded to the situation and how they handled themselves. The lifeguards spend hours practicing and preparing for the worst and when a life was on the line they were all able to put it to use — despite facing an unprecedented situation.
“This was the first time for all of us,” McCaw said.
Wells said he had worked in Hood River since 1991 and could not remember ever having to respond to a similar incident at the pool.
Now she has seen that practice pay off, and Mudder hopes she never has to see it again.
“I tell people that each time I teach the lifeguard class that this is some of the most important stuff you need to know,” she said. “And I hope you never have to use it.”