Above, PTFAC staff members Carly Nekvinda, Amber Johnson, Mandie Gassman, Josie Curry, Paige Johnson, Alex Chapman, Nic Johnson and Connor Runyon attempt to revive Mary Downs. Photo by Jason Selby
Intrepid community volunteer and spokesperson Cheri Nessen has turned her attention to taking Prairie Trails Family Aquatic Center down a safer, greener path. The Corydon pool has moved away from Red Cross techniques to Jeff Ellis & Associates, the leader in aquatic industry for lifeguard training, contracted by many large aquatic theme parks. Nessen has also employed the use of sphagnum moss, which limits the amount of chlorine necessary to keep water clean—a technique few pools have yet to use. The results are increased safety and health for swimmers.
“[Ellis is] different from other lifeguard companies,” Nessen said, as she instructed lifeguard Josie Curry to lead a demonstration in scanning of the water for potential trouble.
“She has a zone that she has to do, and so they do a preliminary scan, and then they do scans the entire time,” Nessen said.
“You have to do bottom scanning and top scanning,” lifeguard Josie Curry said.
“You’re not looking at the people, you’re looking at the water,” Nessen explained. “Because the people whose heads are up there are okay. When they go down to drown, they go down low. And so you’re looking at the bottom, and really don’t focus on the people.”
Lifeguards in this system must maintain “10/20,” which stands for 10 seconds to recognize a crisis, and 20 seconds to reach the crisis location.
Under Ellis, lifeguards must test every year to be recertified.
“In Red Cross, you get a certificate, and don’t have to retest for three years,” Nessen said. “So that’s a long time. That’s a big difference. That also means that if they don’t pass, they could lose their license, and Ellis would put that out there.”
Ellis also audits the lifeguards once a month.
“[An Ellis representative] videotapes you from outside the facility without you knowing it,” lifeguard Mandie Gassman said. “He then comes inside the facility and videotapes you some more. You do the mannequin, or Timmy.”
Timmy is the pool’s dummy training infant.
“They want us to be able to jump in on any given day, not just a day we know they’re here,” Carly Nekvinda said. Nekvinda is PTFAC co-manager with Amber Johnson and Carl Marshall. Nekvinda and Johnson are ILTP instructors for Ellis.
“Usually after we do the drill that we don’t know about, he reveals himself to us,” Gassman added. “And then we go through drills with him or her.”
“The drill is normally an unconscious scenario or a spinal accident in the water,” Nekvinda said.
“He also audits the manager,” Nessen said. “The manager should be visible, helping out with things, checking on safety at all times, talking to the guests—making sure everything’s all right. Plus, there’s a lot of paperwork. Because all this rescue equipment needs to be checked every day. The safety of the facility has to be checked every day. We have in-service forms that we fill out. That way we’re current and we’re on-guard.”
Copies of all audit papers are then sent to the Corydon City Council. In July, all lifeguards at the pool received unannounced audits that Ellis ranked as exceeding standards. According to Ellis’ auditing criteria:
“The observation/simulation evaluation that scores exceed is one that goes beyond the standards of the Ellis & Associates Comprehensive Aquatic Risk Management Program in areas where it is possible to exceed the standard.”
This summer, Corydon lifeguards have saved five swimmers in precarious or dire situations.
The lifeguards were in practice mode the day of my visit. Mary Ann Downs volunteered to serve as a ‘floater,’ an unconscious swimmer head-down in the water. Lifeguards extricated Downs from the pool and performed mock CPR and mock use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
“Then we’re going to provide them the care that they need until EMS arrives,” Nekvinda said.
“The main difference between Ellis and Red Cross, is with Ellis, you provide rescue breaths within the water,” co-manager Amber Johnson said. “Because if you open the airway, they’ll come back, they won’t be unresponsive anymore. All they needed was that airway opened. Hopefully, that’s all that needed to be done, but if not, we provide them rescue breaths to keep that oxygen going.”
Four of the current lifeguards made the switch from Red Cross to Ellis. When Nessen asked the group which they liked best, it was unanimous for Ellis.
“It’s safer,” was one response. Another said Ellis was more instinctual. As well, even when lifeguards are only practicing drills, there must be a fellow lifeguard on duty with the Ellis system.
“I feel like with Ellis I can save someone’s life, and with Red Cross I just sat there,” Johnson said. “I could’ve done it, but it wasn’t as instinctive as it is now.”
“There wasn’t the accountability with Red Cross,” Nekvinda added. “There are less steps to think about. It’s more of what you’d naturally want to do if you came up on a scene, than something that your body doesn’t want to naturally do.”
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the Ellis system,” Nessen said, “and the kids like it. They want to exceed and they want to perform well. It just means that people are safer.”
While Ellis has made the pool safer, sphagnum moss has made the pool cleaner. The moss draws raves from the lifeguards, swimmers and Nessen. Smell and clarity has been improved. Water is softer with no chlorine odor. Nessen describes wafers of dehydrated moss packaged in bags. They are dropped into the water flow of the surge tanks like lobster cages.
This is the first year of the moss. The Corydon pool gets its supply from the same chemical company that supplies their chlorine, ACCO Unlimited of Johnston. Nessen explained that it has been in development for several years, but only recently became affordable and easily used in a commercial pool. The moss does all the work. It simply needs changed once a month.
“It soaks up all the impurities,” Nessen said. “What happens is that our pH stayed between 7.2 and 7.4 all summer. It’s really awesome, because we try to keep our chlorine level anywhere between one and three parts per million.”
Since the pH level of the pool water remains steady, the amount of chemicals needed to maintain that optimum level decreases. Plumbing and pumps are not damaged, because less chlorine is needed. The chlorine tanks now only need to be filled once a year, instead of multiple times.
“I think it will work out at least the same and maybe less as far as cost goes,” Nessen said. “Ordinarily, we fill each of these [tanks] once at the beginning of the year, and come back and fill at least two of them again.
“With the plumbing and the pumps, chlorine just rusts and corrodes them out, and this is such natural water that it doesn’t do that. No smell, less chemicals for the children—I’ve had young moms talk about it. Kala Wiltamuth came up to me at the pool and asked what we did differently this year. She said she could tell a difference. She was very excited when I explained what we were doing.
“You can tell, because there’s a white vinyl film when you use a lot of chlorine. On our plastic floaters—it’s gone. On our ladders—it’s gone. Our clothing doesn’t fade. It’s just amazing.
“None of the pools around that I know of are using the moss. And I don’t think any of them contract with Ellis. We’ve been real pleased. I think you could ask the mayor [Rod Parham] about it. Where we had our lifeguards positioned probably wasn’t the best, and [Ellis] showed us how to do that.
“I’m trying to be progressive and more green—and safer. I think we’re headed in that direction. In general, we’re safer and we’re healthier.”