Teachable Moment; Lifeguard Gets Probation for Chelsea Piers Near-Drowning

According to a May 25th Stamford Advocate news article a judge told a former Chelsea Piers lifeguard he “failed miserably” when a 5-year-old New Canaan boy nearly drowned last summer under his watch, but despite opposition, allowed him to participate in a court diversionary program that will wipe his record if he stays out of trouble. Zachary Stein, 24, has been accepted into a two-year probation program for first-time offenders that will erase felony charges of reckless endangerment and risk of injury. The New Canaan resident is not allowed to be a lifeguard or hold any similar position during the probation period. “If he performs like that as a lifeguard, we are better off not having him as a lifeguard,” Judge Gary White fumed after watching video of Stein walking around a Chelsea Piers pool for 4 minutes, 39 seconds while the boy, Adam Khattak, was submerged underwater last August. Stamford State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo, who objected to Stein being allowed into the probation program, said the lifeguard was supposed to scan the 35-foot by 22-foot wide pool every 10 seconds. Lifeguards at the athletic complex are supposed to abide by the 10-10 rule, which means they can spot someone drowning within 10 seconds and reach them within 10 more seconds. Colangelo said Stein missed the boy drowning even though he should have scanned the pool 27 times before seeing the boy was in trouble. The video showed Stein at one-point walking right next to the boy who was underwater. Colangelo said it also took Stein 20 seconds to reach the boy once he discovered what happened. “He checked out,” Colangelo said of Stein’s performance that day. “He intentionally chose not to do his job.” However, Stein’s attorney Mark Sherman argued his client wasn’t reading a book, smoking a cigarette or talking to other lifeguards when the boy got into trouble. Although he admitted Stein should have done a better job, Sherman said his client was just walking around the pool, which contained 10 children who were taking a break from summer camp at the sports complex. “He is not intentionally engaging in any other activity that would put these kids at risk,” Sherman said. “It was not intentional.” White then interrupted him. “He was supposed to be paying attention,” the judge said loudly. “He failed miserably at his job of being a lifeguard.” Sherman pointed out that Stein likely performed life-saving aid that revived the boy. William Bloss, an attorney for the child’s family, said they appreciated Stein’s efforts trying to save the boy and supported him being accepted into the diversionary program. Bloss said the boy does not appear to have suffered any permanent damage from the incident. “This was a mistake,” Sherman told the judge. “An egregious, egregious mistake, but we can make this a teaching moment for lifeguards.” But Colangelo said teaching moments are not part of his job. “I’m in the business of doing justice,” he said. (end of article)

While this marks the end of the 9-month court case against Stein, so begins a new era of accountability for lifeguards and aquatic management. We must ask ourselves, what if Stein had been performing secondary duties while 5-year-old, Adam, was submerged underwater for 4 minutes, 39 seconds? What if Stein was not able to revive Adam? What if Adam had suffered permanent damage from the incident? Might the verdict have been different?

As responsible leaders, we must take this as a teachable moment for our lifeguards and aquatic management. Remind them that the primary responsibility of a lifeguard is to prevent drownings. Lifeguards should be positioned so they can effectively scan the bottom, middle and surface of all their assigned water area (zone coverage). Lifeguards should have no other responsibilities than to scan and watch swimmers, not testing chemicals, washing or cleaning up the deck, etc. Lifeguards should change / rotate posture (sit, stand, rove) every 5 minutes to maintain vigilance and adjust for variations in bather load, water agitation and surface glare. Lifeguards schedules should provide frequent breaks from surveillance to help maintain vigilance. Management should conduct weekly in-service visual awareness training drills; red ball drills, silhouette manikin drills, bottom and surface scanning drills and scenario-based emergency action plan response drills. View our 2018 Summer Aquatics Safety Reminder for additional information on how you can help support your lifeguards and aquatic management.

As a reminder, Safe-Wise Consulting is always ready to assist you with your aquatic safety needs through our Aquatic Safety Services, Resource Library and On-Site Trainings. Contact us HERE more information.

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