Safety priority at public pools

Lifeguard Britta Gordan, 19, of Texico, watches children Friday at Potter Park Pool. Gordon just finished her second year at New Mexico State and is home for the summer. (Staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Michael Harrell: Freedom Newspapers

Public swimming pools are a hot spot for children to spend their summer days.
Safeguards, including lifeguards and fences, border the area, but the element of danger is never far away.

Rough play, falling, stubbed toes and novice swimmers venturing into water over their heads are some of the more common worries, according to Portales city pool Manager Clay Hawk.

However, the ultimate safety issue is drowning.

A 3-year-old boy from Dallas, who was visiting his grandmother, drowned in the shallow end of Potter Park pool last year in Clovis.

A New Mexico Environment Department investigation into the drowning showed only one of five lifeguards was actively on duty watching the pool at the time of the drowning. Officials with the department have since stipulated four lifeguards will have to watch the Potter pool at all times.

Those overseeing public swimming pools are expected to follow strict state guidelines. Examples include staying under the capacity limit, having a sufficient number of lifeguards and keeping the mechanics of the pool in code to pass inspection, according to Portales City Manager Debi Lee.

Since last year’s tragedy, the lifeguard force at Potter Park pool has been increased, new safety equipment is being used and more safety restrictions are in place, according to Clovis Parks & Recreation Director Rob Carter.

State officials told Clovis officials that children under 12 require adult supervision, Carter said. Portales requires supervision for children under the age of 8.

Each pool requires a certain number of lifeguards on the stands at all times. Each lifeguard is trained in specialized classes for Red Cross, lifeguarding, CPR and first aid, officials said.

On average it takes 90 seconds for a person to drown, experts say. Lifeguards in the area are trained to recognize distress in 10 seconds or less and to reach the guest with aid in 20 seconds more.

“I actually feel very safe leaving my kid at the pool,” said Brenda Benally from Kirtland Air Force Base. She took her 9-year-old daughter to the Portales city pool while visiting the town.

Portales has an estimated 200 to 250 kids each day visiting its pool and a 300-person capacity limit, according to Mack Tucker, the director of the Portales Parks and Recreation Department.

About 100 people a day use the Potter Park pool, according to Carter. The capacity is 160 visitors.