Wednesday, June 19, 1996
Saving a life cool diversion on a hot day

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Saving a life was not on Jincey Yemaya's Sunday list of things to do.

She had planned just to stop by the McKie Recreation Center in Northside. That's where the Cincinnati Recreation Commission's aquatic coordinator teaches Lifeguarding 101 in the center's pool. Then, she was going to drop off some film to be developed.

Her plans got sidetracked at poolside. Just as the center's swimming pool was closing for the day, she saw a 4-year-old girl dash across the hot concrete for one last splash in the cool water.

The little girl happily hopped into the pool. And panicked.

This was the adult pool, not the baby pool. Her feet could not touch the bottom. She was scared. She flapped her arms and struggled to keep her head above water.

Since she's been training lifeguards for 20 years, Jincey Yemaya immediately recognized what was going on.

''Those are the signs of an active drowning victim,'' she said. And they call for an immediate response.

Act now!

In 15-20 seconds, a swimmer in danger can go from being an active drowning victim to a passive one: head under water, unconscious, nearing death.

Seeing this, Jincey Yemaya dived into the pool - clothes and all - and pulled the little girl to safety.

No one knew it at the time, but the quick actions of a lifelong lifeguard kept a 4-year-old from becoming another swimming pool statistic on a hot, sunny day.

Sunday was perfect for fun in the water. The rains had stopped. The sun beamed. The heat was on. The combined ills of spring fever and cabin fever filled pools with people trying to cram weeks of pent-up energy into one glorious day.

Amid all this beauty, the day saw two fatal drownings. One involved a 5-year-old girl in a pool at a Springdale condo complex. The other claimed a 20-year-old man at Coney Island's Sunlite Pool.

A third swimming accident hospitalized a 7-year-old boy. He's in fair condition after being found at the bottom of an apartment pool in Forest Park.

''Drownings are the most easily preventable accidents,'' Jincey Yemaya told her class of 38 fidgeting student-lifeguards on Monday. Then she mentioned saving a 4-year-old. The class sat still. The only sounds in the room were her voice and the air-conditioner's hum.

The teacher finished her story with a question: ''What would you do if that happened at your pool?''

Hands went up. Answers came forward: Stay focused. Keep calm. During the rescue, other lifeguards scan their part of the pool. Sweeping the zone, they call it. Never take your eyes off the water. Look for trouble. Listen for danger.

That's the textbook answer. But, how can that work in real life?

Distractions are everywhere. Scantily-clad people laugh and yell as they get in and out of the pool. Sunbeams bounce off the water's surface. Bathers jam shoulder to shoulder to enjoy the first heat wave of 1996. With all of this, how can you stay focused?

''I always remember,'' Jincey Yemaya said, ''what might happen if I don't.''

No thanks

Dave Scarborough remembers his first save. The 18-year-old senior lifeguard at the Blue Ash Recreation Center was in the chair last summer. He sat by the deep end of the 480,000-gallon pool whose twin water slides, whale-shaped baby pool and other amenities rival those of an amusement park.

A woman dived off the board and into trouble. ''Her arms were flapping in the air. She was going under. I blew my whistle three times to signal an emergency and went in after her.''

He brought her to dry land. She pulled herself up on the edge of the pool and walked away without so much as a ''thank you.''

That was fine by the lifeguard. ''I just thought: 'Wow! I saved someone.' Then I took my pulse. It was just under 200.''

The pulses were decidedly lower in Jincey Yemaya's lifeguard class. She was handing out a homework assignment.

Some students stifled a yawn. An aspiring lifeguard named Christine wondered out loud: ''Aren't we going to get something cool for our $150, like a T-shirt?''

Sorry, no T-shirt. But, if you pass the course, you're certified to save a life. There's nothing cooler.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For now. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.