How to Respond to a Water Emergency

Tragedy struck the Murrieta Valley Unified School District when 13-year-old student Alex Pierce passed away after an end-of-year school swim party. Alex’s parents filed a wrongful death claim with help from their legal representation at Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP, against the school district. His death was preventable, as he was at the bottom of the pool for at least 95 seconds before anyone went to his aid. There were not enough lifeguards to supervise the pool party safely, which had over 100 students in attendance. Other details regarding his death suggest that the school district’s negligence was in large part responsible for the young boy’s death. Witnesses on the scene reported that lifeguards did not perform CPR on Alex for fear of making a spinal cord injury worse. Timely and appropriate actions could potentially have saved Alex’s life. Understanding how to spot and respond to a water emergency isn’t just good practice – it’s lifesaving.


Recognize the Signs of an Emergency


Emergencies happen quickly and without warning. Bystanders need to be on the alert for emergencies at all times, especially when in positions of responsibility, such as a lifeguard. Recognize a swimmer is in distress or in need of help if he or she is trying to swim but is making little or no progress. Swimmers who are struggling not to drown may press their arms against their sides in an effort to keep the head above the water. Other swimmers, in a “passive drowning” may be motionless, floating face down on the surface or the bottom of the water.


Never assume a swimmer is joking or pulling a prank. Likewise, don’t assume others on the scene are joking when they say someone is drowning. In Alex Pierce’s case, a recorded statement proves that although kids at the party told a lifeguard on duty that someone was drowning, the lifeguard did not react. It’s unclear if the lifeguard thought the kids were joking or if he simply didn’t know how to respond to a water emergency.


Respond Quickly and Efficiently


If a swimmer is missing, check the water first for signs of passive drowning. Instead of swimming after a drowning person, throw a life raft in the water or reach for the person. This protects your own safety as well as gives the drowning person his or her best chance of getting to safety. If you must, swim out to help the drowning person. Use a raft or floating backboard to swim the person to safety, and then call 9-1- 1.


While waiting for a health care professional to show up, check the drowning victim for signs of breathing. Put your ear close to his or her mouth and nose to listen for breathing and feel for air coming out. If you don’t see signs of breath, check the victim’s pulse for at least 10 seconds. If there is no pulse, begin CPR. For child or adult victims, perform chest compressions by pressing down about two inches. For an infant, only press the chest down about one and a half inches.


Perform 30 chest compressions, completing them at a rate of 100 compressions per minute. Allow the victim’s chest to rise completely between compressions. If the victim is still not breathing, repeat CPR. If you’re CPR certified, tilt the victim’s head back to open the airway. Pinch the victim’s nose closed, create an airtight seal with your mouth over the victim’s mouth, and release two one-second breaths. Complete 30 more chest compressions.


Repeat this cycle until emergency aid arrives or until the victim starts to breathe. If you’re planning a pool party, be prepared to respond to water emergencies. Your reaction time and efficiency during a drowning emergency can mean the difference between life and death.


Sources: treatment