Lifeguards are the unsung heroes who work relentlessly to protect lives at sea. Patrolling beaches for hours on end, keeping a sharp eye on every tourist, and risking their own lives day-in and day-out to save others is not an easy job. Nevertheless, many lifeguards, some government-appointed and some voluntary, work tirelessly in India.
An important phase in the journey towards becoming a lifeguard is safety training. Lifeguards have to be well-versed in life-saving procedures and familiarize themselves with the safety equipment they have to use. Additionally, they are also expected to use personal life-safety equipment to prevent accidents to themselves during rescue operations.
Here we take a look at both, the safety equipment used by lifeguards to protect people from drowning as well as the personal safety equipment they themselves use.
External Safety Equipment Used by Lifeguards
Lifeguards use a wide variety of equipment while saving lives. Different kinds of accessories have to be used depending on the situation and the stage of rescue. Here we list some of the most common devices used by lifeguards.
Figure 1: Rescue Tube
A rescue tube is made up of high-density foam and used in multiple ways to protect the victim from drowning. The lifeguard swims out with the rescue tube dragging behind him/her till he reaches the person in distress. The victim can then rest on the rescue tube and slowly start swimming towards the shore, aided by the lifeguard. If the person is too exhausted or traumatised to swim, the tube can be wrapped around the person’s body and the lifeguard pulls them back to the safety of the shore.
Figure 2: Spineboard
A backboard, also known as a spineboard, is used by lifeguards to rescue victims who have suffered injuries in the water or have fallen unconscious and are unable to support themselves. It often comes with a head immobilizer to prevent the victim’s head from being moved in case of cranial injuries. The victim is strapped to the board and dragged swiftly to the shore with the help of a backboard.
A shepherd’s crook, or a lifesaving hook, is generally used by lifeguards at swimming pools to pull people out of the water. As the name suggests, the hook has a shape like that of a shepherd’s crook, though it is very flexible. The hook is attached to a long aluminum pole which can extend easily through the water. Lifeguards grab the victim using the hook and pull them to the deck gradually.
Figure 3: Ring Buoy
Ring buoys are one of the most frequently used safety equipment by lifeguards, for deep-sea rescues. Lifebuoys are shaped like a donut and can be placed around the victim’s waist or under the armpits to help them float. They are usually made of HDPE shells filled with dense foam and coloured bright orange to be easily visible at a distance.
Lifeguards need to ensure that they throw the ring buoy properly towards the victim so that they do not hit the person accidentally.
A reaching pole often comes with a float ball and body hook, all of which are together used to pull a drowning person to the shore. There are numerous clamps that can be successively opened to increase the length of the pole. Once the pole reaches the person in distress, they can grab onto the pole and the lifeguard pulls them back to the deck of the pool.
Onsite Automated External Defibrillators
Figure 4: Defibrillators
Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs for short, are one of the most critical tools used by lifeguards. They are used to provide emergency heart restarts to victims who have suffered a cardiac arrest during swimming and need rescue. Lifeguards are trained to correctly and efficiently use defibrillators only in extreme cases.
Figure 5: Rescue boats
Rescue boats are the means by which lifeguards conduct the deep-sea rescue operations. They are stocked with emergency supplies, medication, and rescue equipment and can safely convey the rescuers and the rescued back to the shore.
Emergency oxygen cylinders are used to provide additional oxygen to victims who have trouble in breathing. The pulse and oxygen concentration of the person is first measured by using a pulse oximeter. The lifeguard then switches on the oxygen cylinder and fills up the air-bag with a sufficient quantity of oxygen, depending on the victim’s requirement, and asks the person to inhale slowly and at a measured pace. Lifeguards have to handle oxygen cylinders very carefully because they are under high pressure.
Figure 6: Lifejackets
Lifejackets are a familiar piece of safety equipment and they are very effective in life-saving techniques. Made of polyester fabric and stuffed with foam, they keep a person buoyant in water. In addition, they also have a whistle and emergency light attached, so the person needing rescue can easily attract attention towards themselves.
First aid kits
Figure 7: First-aid kits
First-aid kits used by lifeguards contain CPR and first-aid supplies like crepe and gauze bandages, antiseptic wipes, sting-relief wipes, wound closures, antibiotics, antiseptic salves for minor cuts, bruises, scrapes, and irritations.
These are some of the external live-saving materials used by lifeguards. Let us now move on to the personal protective equipment that is mandatory for them.
Personal Protective Equipment
One of the most important rules for lifeguards is that they have to make sure of their own safety before venturing to save others. This is important because lack of taking such safety precautions may result in two people needing rescue rather than just one. To this end, here we discuss some of the personal safety equipment used by lifeguards.
Use of chemical-resistant gloves is mandatory while handling pool chemicals. Similarly, nitrile and vinyl gloves may be used by lifeguards while pulling drowned victims from the sea, to protect lifeguards from exposure to blood and other body fluids. Gloves eliminate direct contact between the lifeguard and the victim, which minimizes the risk of disease transmission as well.
Breathing masks and goggles
Breathing masks and goggles are imperative for long-distance rescues, where there is a possibility of the lifeguard exhausting himself/herself. Typically, lifeguards are trained to swim for long distances, however, goggles are a protective barrier for the lifeguard’s eyes which prevents him from being distracted from the operation.
Fins and ear plugs
Fins are used as propellers by lifeguards, to better aid swimming. They offer less resistance and increase power of the stroke due to their shape. Ear plugs are used to prevent the water from entering the lifeguard’s ears and hence avoid water retention.
This completes the overview of the safety equipment used by lifeguards to protect people as well as themselves. There are several lifeguard-training associations in India, such as the Rashtriya Life Saving Society, Baywatch Lifeguards Association, which train and employ lifeguard volunteers.
It is evident that working as a lifeguard requires great strength of mind and body, as one has to deal with accidents and deaths on a daily basis. It is important that we acknowledge the noble work of lifeguards and make their lives marginally easier by conscientiously following water-safety rules and regulations.