Report: Just one lifeguard on duty during drowning

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

A New Mexico Environment Department investigation into last week’s drowning at Potter Park pool shows only one lifeguard was actively on duty at the time of the incident.

The report states that a protection plan submitted by the city “indicates that four lifeguards will be posted at four designated stations, this requires that lifeguards be actively on duty at these stations at all times when bathers are in the water.”

As 3-year-old Jequon Haynes drowned on July 13, two lifeguards were swimming in the deep end of the Potter Park pool and two were in the bathhouse lobby and only one was “actively on duty,” the report shows.

However, city officials said Tuesday night there is no policy mandating that four lifeguards be on duty at all times.

Director of Parks and Recreation Rob Carter said the statewide rule states one lifeguard must be on duty for every 40 bathers. At the time of the incident, there were between 30 and 40 swimmers in the pool, which has a capacity of 160.

“They accepted what we turned in,” said Carter of the protection plan required by the NMED. He said the department never told the city about needing four lifeguards on duty at all times.

As of Tuesday night, neither Carter nor City Manager Joe Thomas had seen the investigation report, which was released by the department near the end of business hours Tuesday.

The city “10/20 plan,” simply stated, requires that a lifeguard recognize that a guest is in distress within 10 seconds and then reach the guest and render aid in 20 seconds more.

Carter developed the plan and submitted it to the environment department on May 13, the report shows. It details locations of four lifeguard stations and outlines “scanning zones” for each location, but nowhere in the 10/20 plan does it specifically state four lifeguards are required to be on duty when bathers are in the water.

The NMED will require the city adopt stricter standards before reopening the pool, according to its report. The department will require “further clarification of the submitted 10/20 guest protection plan and protection plans shall be submitted to NMED.”

The city will also have to explain in detail the rotation process for the lifeguards.

In the last paragraph of the environment department’s requirements, the report states, “Awareness of lifeguard responsibilities must be emphasized, and distractions must be kept to a minimum. This means that the city of Clovis must address the music and radio issue.”

One local mother said last week that the radio was turned up too loud at the pool, and she complained to city management.

But Carter said the public has reported the city’s lifeguards are “very professional.” Of the 13 who applied for the positions, only seven were accepted and employed, Carter said. All the lifeguards received certification from Red Cross.

Intense sun glare may have also played a factor in the drowning, according to the investigation report. “Sun glare and light refraction of water restricted the visibility conditions when viewing from the east to the west,” the report says. The lifeguard on active duty would have been looking in this direction, according to the report. “These visibility conditions worsened for the pool as time proceeded, due to the setting sun.”

Carter said many have called asking for the pool to be reopened.

“Once we get the approval from the environment department that we can reopen, that would be our plan,” Carter said.