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There's nothing like a hot, summer day at the local pool.

Tingling cold water, the smell of chlorine, children shouting "Watch me, look at this."

Belly flops, cannonballs, inner tubes and rubber bathing caps.

And, once in a great while, a tragedy.

"Aquatic facilities create the greatest challenge from a risk management perspective," said Betsy Kutska, executive director of the Park District Risk Management Agency in Wheaton, Ill. "We have had, by far, more serious accidents resulting in permanent disability or deaths associated with aquatic facilities or water-related activities" than any other recreational activity.

Since PDRMA's inception in 1984, there have been seven drownings at PDRMA member pools.

In an effort to prevent drownings and accidents completely, PDRMA has undertaken several initiatives.

For example, PDRMA in 1990 began recommending to members a lifeguard training program operated by Jeff Ellis & Associates Inc. in Kingwood, Texas. Since then, there have been only two drownings at PDRMA member pools.

Fifty-three PDRMA member agencies use the Ellis program out of 75 members that operate 121 aquatic facilities.

There are approximately 1 million daily visitors annually to the aquatic facilities owned by the PDRMA members that contract with Ellis.

Ellis, an aquatic risk management consultant, trains and certifies lifeguards and performs three unannounced audits annually of the facilities its guards work at.

Ellis teaches the guards cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, first aid and a method of watching the pool called the 10/20 second protection rule.

Under that rule, a lifeguard must be able to scan the area of the pool he or she is responsible for within 10 seconds and be able to get to a person in distress within 20 seconds.

It is crucial that lifeguards be able to detect and respond to an incident immediately because drownings can occur without warning, Ms. Kutska noted.

"It's absolutely amazing that people don't drown while yelling out, 'I'm drowning, I'm drowning, help me,'*" Ms. Kutska said.

During its surprise audits of the aquatic facility, Ellis inspects the facility and makes sure that the guard is following the 10/20 second protection rule and all other rules. An Ellis employee sometimes will observe the lifeguard from outside the facility, such as from the rooftop of an adjacent building, so the guard does not know he or she is being observed, Ms. Kutska said.

Ellis supplies each facility its guards work at with an oxygen tank.

Ellis charges $50 per lifeguard for training; retraining guards who previously have been certified by Ellis is $35. All lifeguards must be re-trained annually.

Ellis charges $340 per audit, for a total annual cost of $1,020. PDRMA reimburses its members for the cost of the audits on a sliding scale based on how well the facility scored on the audit, up to the full cost for a perfect score.

Ms. Kutska also has been working with Illinois officials to change the state code that regulates aquatic facilities.

Ms. Kutska has spent three years leading a task force that examined the state aquatic facility code, which was written in the 1950s. The changes her task force recommends "make it a code for the 21st century," she said.

Some of the changes the task force is recommending are safety related, while others update old-fashioned vagaries of the code.

For example, the code specifies that a changing and restroom facility must be a certain size in relation to the square footage of the pool. "This formula was developed for indoor school pools, when the whole class changed at once," Ms. Kutska noted. Now, though, when the formula is applied to the huge water parks being built, "it makes the bathhouse the size of a barn."

A more serious change the task force recommends is allowing aquatic facilities to use new materials and designs that the code does not specifically address; currently the code does not allow for any variations to its rules.

For example, it would be a good idea to install a cushioning material around and under diving boards, but the code does not allow it, Ms. Kutska noted.

The largest number of serious accidents at a pool occur when children fall off of a three meter diving board, Ms. Kutska explained. Typically children fall either because the ladder is wet and the child slips or the child chickens out of jumping into the pool and falls off the board while trying to go back to the ladder.

When Ms. Kutska raised this issue with state Department of Health officials, they countered that people might get athlete's foot from the cushioning material. "They weren't thinking about where the really serious accidents occur," she observed.

As a result of her efforts, however, the code will be changed to allow new materials and design techniques to be requested and approved.

Ms. Kutska said she expects the code changes to be approved this summer and the new rules to be distributed next fall.