Testing The Waters

Dear Camp Director:

Make sure your lifeguards are prepared.

“I am sending you my most precious possession, my child. For the next two weeks, my son’s health and safety will be placed in the hands of a complete stranger at your camp. I have known about River Way Ranch Camp for years, and I certainly understand the benefits of sending my child there, as I was also a camper there. Some of my most cherished memories are from summer camp.

“My son has waited all year to attend camp. He has kept his grades up, his room clean, has done extra chores around the house and, for the most part, he has even been nice to his sister. That was the deal for him to go to camp. He is excited and has told all his friends about your camp and the many activities he wants to learn. What’s the problem, you ask? I am petrified! What training has your staff had, and are they prepared for an emergency? Before that bus leaves on Sunday, please have the director call me and share the training your staff members have completed. Thank you.”

Sincerely,

A New Camper’s Mom

Be Prepared

Sound familiar? With over 10 million children attending summer camps each year, most parents share these same concerns, whether they voice them or not. What can you do, as a camp director, to put their minds at ease? What training do you offer, and are you certain that staff members are prepared to handle an emergency? A well-trained staff person will be able to respond to an emergency at camp and, with an excellent trainer, will do so in the years to follow.

One of the highest areas of risk for summer camps is the waterfront. Swimming, boating, rope swings, blobs, waterskiing, wakeboarding, wave runners, inner-tubing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, water basketball, water volleyball and aqua-aerobics all put children in the water for fun, adventure and excitement. Are staff members really prepared, or do you copy their lifeguard certificates and hand them a whistle?

As the owner of a family-owned camp, I require everyone working the waterfront not only to complete a course to obtain lifeguard training, CPR, first-aid and AED certifications, but to prove their skills throughout the season. Ongoing endurance training, mock-situations that test response time and rescue technique and video feedback with evaluation are all part of the weekly in-service training. Although accredited camps must use certified lifeguards, non-accredited camps have no governing board to set policies to ensure maximum safety; therefore, each camp may choose the extent of its training.

Make It An Inside Job

For years, our camp allowed staff members to train with outside organizations. Upon arrival, we tested the skills of those certified guards, and many would not pass. After all, what good is a certificate if you cannot physically do the task? The American Red Cross offers a quality class–36 hours of intense training–and the certificate is valid for three years without any additional training. The fee for this class is $75 to $150. Students also can take this class through a college but, again, it can be costly, and students frequently don’t have the time between school and work schedules. Many camps offer extra money to those who arrive with certification, but are forced to hire expensive hourly guards to fill the gaps when they don’t have enough certified staff.

A cost-effective alternative is to offer this training at your camp. All you need is a nearby pool, a TV and DVD player, rental CPR equipment from an outside agency and a local Red Cross chapter to work with you.

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