Pool staff recommends safety changes

The Hillsboro City Council indicated its intent at a special meeting June 28 to formally give aquatic center personnel authority to establish and enforce safety rules and procedures at the pool.

The recommendation arose while the council was discussing a written proposal from pool staff that four changes be made at the center in the aftermath of a near-drowning incident June 11.

?Our pool staff has been going through a process of assessing what they have learned from that event,? City Administrator Larry Paine said.

Two of the four recommendations had to do with physical changes at the facility. Paine said he approved those changes in consultation with the city?s safety committee.

One recommendation was to insert two drop pins in the concrete floor to keep the facility?s front doors open under windy conditions.

?When the wind blows, the doors become a danger to our patrons and their children,? the proposal stated. ?When the wind blows, children can barely open the door, and when they do, the door has pushed kids over and slammed kids in-between the two doors.?

The second recommendation was to replace the current lifeguard stand along the west side of the deep end of the pool with a cantilever stand that would position the lifeguard over the water itself and eliminate a 2-foot-wide blind spot along the west edge of the pool.

The June 11 incident occurred in the area of the blind spot.

?Inevitably, whether a parent is a responsible parent or not, (life)guards often see children in areas of the pool where they are not supposed to be, nor can they swim in that area,? the proposal stated.

?The guard?s job is to watch the water, and when guards have to begin to monitor the outside-of-water problems more than the water is when children become at a higher risk to be in danger.?

The adding the drop pins was estimated to cost around $30 and the new lifeguard stand between $2,000 and $3,000.

The other two recommendations were specific pool rules. Paine brought them to the council as policy issues.

The first rule would require all patrons 3 feet, 10 inches and shorter to wear a life jacket unless they could pass an ?appropriate swim test? administered by a center staff member.

Patrons who decline to take the swim test, or do not pass it, would be given a wristband to be more easily identified by lifeguards.

The patrons who agree to wear a life jacket would be able to access all areas of the pool. Those that decline a life jacket would be limited to the shallow, zero-entry area.

The second rule would require day-care providers to have one responsible adult, age 16 and older, for every three children under age 8.

This rule is already in effect at the center, ?but people have complained that it is not a rule that has been approved by the city, so it holds no weight,? the proposal stated.

During discussion, the council affirmed the intent of the rule changes, but Councilor Marlene Fast suggested the age definition of ?adult? be lowered from 16 to 14 or even 12.

Fast said in her experience, few teens seek baby-sitting jobs by the time they turn 16. Also, 12-to-14-year-olds usually are more focused on overseeing the children in their charge than are older teens.

?If we?re going to make rules, let?s make rules that work,? Fast said. ?Sixteen-year-olds aren?t watching.?

Beyond the content of the rules, Fast questioned whether approving specific rules was the best way for the city to support aquatic center staff, or even if it was an appropriate domain for a city council.

Fellow council members quickly picked up on the theme of rule-making versus policy-making.

To illustrate the difference, Paine said it would be appropriate for the city to establish a policy requiring ?an appropriate child-to-adult ratio? at the pool, but then to let the pool staff, as appropriately trained professionals, decide what that ratio should be.

?Let?s give them the authority to make the rules,? he said.

The council went on record to endorse that approach, with Paine agreeing to craft a formal policy to that effect for the council?s consideration and vote at the next meeting.

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