Common Equipment Used by Lifeguards

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Lifeguarding in the United States is over 100 years old. And, as you may have guessed, over those 100-plus years the equipment used has evolved greatly into what is being used today. Whether it is the different types of flotation devices or the sunglasses that are now being used, technological advancement has given us some very helpful pieces of equipment that you should know how to use. Here is an overview of the types of equipment that you will encounter as a lifeguard and a brief description on their function.

Flotation Devices & Other Rescue Tools – When performing a water rescue, it is important to reach the victim and get them to safety as quickly as possible. Flotation devices, such as rescue tubes and buoys, provide assistance by keeping the victim afloat as you swim them to safety. Used primarily at pools and water parks, rescue tubes are vinyl coated, foam filled tubes that measure around 4 feet in length and include a shoulder strap and tow line. They are meant to be held at all times and are able to support multiple victims if necessary. Similarly, a rescue buoy is a flotation device that is more common to beaches. Also referred to as a can, it is made of lightweight, hard plastic and is also able to support multiple victims. Another type of flotation device is the ring buoy. These are most commonly found on cruise ships and are intended to be thrown to the victim. The ring buoy is meant to allow the victim to float while they wait to be rescued. Other types of rescue equipment are reaching poles and shepherd’s crooks. These are made to reach the victim in the water from the side of the pool and pull them to safety. They are commonly required pieces of equipment by the Health Department, but are not usually utilized by lifeguards.

First Aid Kit – More often than not, you will be asked to provide smaller scale emergency care. In these instances victims may have small wounds, bites, burns, sprains, or bone breaks. As most cases do not pose an imminent threat to the victim’s life, it is important that you take the necessary steps to protect yourself against the spread of pathogens. Almost every facility that you work at will keep a first aid kit on site. The best and most utilized protection available in the kits are disposable gloves. Typically made of latex and intended for a single use, the gloves protect you from direct contact with blood and other fluids. In addition to gloves, first aid kits commonly include items to treat cuts and wounds as well as stabilization objects that assist with injuries to bones and joints. Ice packs and blankets may also be included in the first aid kit to deal with temperature-related injuries. If your facility is a larger facility, it is possible that your first aid kit will include additional protective equipment. This type of equipment can include anything from protective eye wear to shields or masks. Like the gloves, the idea of this equipment is to eliminate the contact with blood or other fluids. After you are finished administering treatment involving blood, you will need to clean up the site. A blood spill kit is another common item that you will find at your site to assist you in this matter.

Resuscitation Equipment – If the first aid kit is the best piece of equipment at any facility, than the resuscitation equipment is 1A. Not only does this equipment assist in providing emergency oxygen to the victim, it keeps the care-person safe by creating a barrier to avoid the transmission of pathogens. The most common piece of resuscitation equipment that you will find at your facility is the resuscitation mask. Clear flexible masks are often used in a breathing emergency to create a seal that allows you to breathe air directly to the victim without direct contact. There will usually be a few different size masks available at your site to accommodate infants, children, and adults. Anther common piece of equipment that you will find are oxygen tanks. Oxygen tanks, when used with a delivery device, provide the victim with oxygen immediately. Another way that oxygen is provided to the victim is through a bag valve mask. This device must be operated by two people and uses a bag and valve to push oxygen through the resuscitation mask to the victim. Other types of resuscitation equipment that you may find include suctioning devices, which help to remove fluid from the victim’s airway, and airways, which help to maintain an airway for a non-breathing victim.

Binoculars & Sunglasses – These pieces of equipment can be considered the most optional out of all the equipment that is being reviewed. But since most lifeguards work outdoors, purchasing a pair of sunglasses or binoculars would be very helpful. Binoculars are often used by ocean-front lifeguards for the purpose of seeing long distances. Whether you are trying to communicate with your fellow lifeguards at the next tower or are watching swimmers at a far distance, binoculars can be a beneficial piece of equipment. When purchasing a pair of binoculars, it is best to try different brands and different lens strengths to see which pair are the best for your eyes. Even more useful than a pair of binoculars are sunglasses. Sunglasses provide protection from UV rays and help to reduce the glare coming off the water. The cost of sunglasses varies widely based off the brand and style you would like to purchase. A good pair of sunglasses can typically be had for $40 to $50.

Backboards & Rescue Boards – While both pieces of equipment sound similar, their uses are entirely different. Introduced in the early 1900s, the rescue board was created to replace faulty lifelines that were not doing the job they were intended to do. A little larger than a surf board, a rescue board is typically made of plastic or fiberglass and floats above the water. Lifeguards can use them to paddle to distant victims and they are built to support multiple victims. A rescue board may alternatively be used by a lifeguard to patrol deeper portions of the water. On the contrary, a backboard is used to remove a victim from the water when they are unable to exit on their own. They also provide the necessary support and devices to move a victim with potential injuries to the head, neck, or spine. Make sure you are adequately trained and versed in the use of a backboard before attempting to use one as the misuse could result in permanent paralysis or even death to the victim.

Automated External Defibrillators – When a victim is neither conscious nor showing signs of life, it is important to intervene quickly in an attempt to save the victim’s life. In these instances, a portable electronic device known as an automated external defibrillator, or AED, will be used. The small device can send electronic shocks to the victim’s heart in an attempt to re-establish rhythmic beating. Like the other equipment we have reviewed, do not attempt to operate the AED if you are not familiar or trained in its use.

Boats & Kayaks – Used primarily to monitor and patrol, boats and kayaks can sometimes be found at beaches and lakes. The type used will usually be determined by the amount of traffic at your facility as well as the depth of the water and typical surf conditions. A kayak is commonly used to patrol deeper waters and can even act as a resting device for tired swimmers. They are common to triathlons where racers swim long distances in the open water. Conversely, row boats can be seen in action closer to the beachfront. They are used to help break through rough surf to make water rescues. At some facilities, motorized boats and jet skis may be made available for use to break through the surf. As in any situation, make sure you have the proper training, certification, and licensing before attempting to use any of this equipment.

Like many other emergency service professions, lifeguards utilize a wide variety of equipment to survey and provide care to victims. Whether it be fancy electronic equipment or simple devices used to quell bleeding, you should be familiar with its function and use. Knowing as much will make you a better lifeguard and more of an asset to your team and the guests that you are keeping safe.

write by Bellamy


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