Water safety top priority at South Hills pools

Published Jul 11, 2014 at 4:38 pm (Updated Jul 11, 2014 at 4:38 pm)

There is nothing that grabs as much attention as when a lifeguard blows a whistle at a crowded swimming pool on a hot summer day. Technology may have advanced, but it’s the sound of a whistle that signals someone in or near the pool is doing something they should not.

For the managers of several local public and private pools, safety is the number one concern.

“You can never be too safe,” said Gary Zabrowski, pool manager at the Bower Hill Swim Club, near the border of Mt. Lebanon and Scott Township. He’s been in the business of pool management for 40 of his 60 years. Not only is he the manager, but he’s also a certified lifeguard at the private swim club with about 200 member families.

With two, 1-meter diving boards, Zabrowski said there are usually four lifeguards on each shift, and never less than two with one on patrol around the pool or taking tickets at the entrance.

Thanks to the guards and Zabrowski’s diligence, there have been no incidents this summer and he said there was only one minor event last season.

Mt. Lebanon opened its new pool June 15 that has a zero-entry beach area, a diving well and is 50 meters by 25 yards. There are between eight and nine lifeguards stationed at the pool with several in reserve, said Bob Hlebinsky, of the municipality’s recreation center.

No rafts or other inflatable devices are permitted although, Hlebinsky said, U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation devices are permitted.

Swimming lessons are a vital part of any pool activity whether it be at a public or private pool, a home pool, or a lake or beach.

“It’s never too late for a lesson,” said Chris Biswick, aquatics supervisor at the Community & Recreation Center at Boyce Mayview Park. The center on Boyce Road in Upper St. Clair has four bodies of water, including a lap pool, whirlpool, an indoor leisure pool and an outdoor pool that opened in 2009. The pools are designed without diving boards. On an average sunny summer day, Biswich said there are nine lifeguards on duty.

With safety a priority, Biswich said any incidents associated with the pools are “very minor” and often involve falls. Water rescues are extremely rare, he added.

Memberships are available to join the C&RC and one needs not be a township resident. Daily passes for $12 are also available, Biswich said.

He suggests that any parent never stray farther than an arm’s length from their child, and, again stressed the need for swimming lessons sooner than later.

Woodland Hills Club, also in Upper St. Clair near Peters Township, has about 500 members and has been tucked away in a somewhat secluded 10-acre parcel since 1959. Harry Peterson has been the manager for about four seasons. There is a 1-meter diving board, a baby pool and two slide tubes. During the active summer days, Peterson said there are seven to eight employees with four to five lifeguards assigned to each shift.

“Parents have to keep an eye on their children,” Peterson said. “Sometimes parents are in a conversation and they are not as attentive.”

Children under the age of 12 are not permitted to be at the club without adult supervision in the 200,000-gallon heated pool that ranges from 3- to 12-feet deep. No inflatables are allowed, but Peterson said Wednesday nights are raft night for those ages 15 and under.

Zabrowski of Bower Hill said since safety is stressed, there have been no serious injuries in his memory.

“We are very strict about the rules,” he said. Any swimmer must pass a swim test before being permitted in the deep end or to go on the diving board.

Anyone entering the Bower Hill Swim Club is given a list of the rules and regulations, including no running or horseplay, and are asked if they are a guest or a new member.

Like Woodland Hills, rafts are not permitted, as Zabrowski said the inflatables give a false sense of security. However, swim noddles are permitted.

The Dormont pool has been around for generations and although located in Dormont, the pool is contracted to and operated by Jeff Ellis Management in Florida. Ellis said his company also manages the pool in Baldwin and a majority of the water parks across the country, and has 40 lifeguards on staff to serve both local outdoor pools.

Depending on the crowd, Ellis said there are a minimum of seven guards at each pool with a maximum of 12. The Dormont pool does not have a diving board, but there is one water slide.

A strict rule at the Dormont pool is a minimum height requirement of 52 inches to use the water slide without adult supervision.

“Under 52 inches and the parents must be in arm’s reach,” Ellis said.

Water has always been a large part of Ellis’ life. He remembers learning to swim in 1961 so he could take the lifeguard test, which he did in 1963 and passed at the age of 15.

“I always wanted to be a lifeguard,” Ellis said.

But finding mature, qualified individuals to be lifeguards is becoming more difficult, Ellis said, a fact supported by Zabrowski at Bower Hill.

“It’s extensive training,” Zabrowski said of the 28- to 36-hour course for certification.

“It’s harder and harder to find good guards,” Zabrowski said.

Peterson of Woodland Hills said all of the lifeguards at the swim club are certified and trained in first aid and CPR.

While lifeguards are constantly watching for any unusual activities, there is no substitution for adult supervision.

“Parents need to be aware of their children’s abilities and whereabouts,” Hlebinsky of Mt. Lebanon said. “Do not let them try things they are not ready for. This includes the diving board, slides or any activity that puts them in water over their head.”

The next time a lifeguard whistle blows, listen. Technology has advanced making the old clipboard obsolete, but one thing remains unchanged: the whistle.

“We still use a whistle,” Ellis said. “And I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

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