Ottawa pools a no-text zone


A person can drown faster than you can type SOS and hit send.

And that’s no laughing matter.

Lifeguard Emma Walker has no problem texting “TTYL” and putting her phone away when she’s at work.

“You make sure you have enough self control not to be playing with your phone or whatever,” said Walker.

At 17, she’s been working as a lifeguard at the Clarence-Rockland YMCA-YWCA for eight months.

“Cell phone use on our pool deck is prohibited,” said regional director Ali Riel.

“It’s not an option.”

Walker said her phone stays in her bag inside the office and isn’t touched until her shift is over.

In Canada, nearly 500 people die every year in water-related incidents.

Last summer, at least five people drowned in Ottawa. The deaths weren’t related to lifeguards texting.

But not saying L8R G8R is a growing problem stateside.

In 2010, the American Lifeguard Association received dozens of complaints about lifeguards texting while they’re on duty.

“The youth that we’re dealing with have a psychological issue that they have a need to stay in contact,” said ALA director of health and safety B.J. Fisher.

The majority of lifeguards in Canada and the U.S. are 16 to 23 years old.

Surfing web

Every second spent texting, Tweeting, on Facebook or surfing the web on their smartphone means they’re not scanning the water every 10 to 14 seconds like they’re supposed to.

And Fisher has a problem with the need to be accessible at all times.

“They literally have it connected to them,” said Fisher, adding it’s tricky for a supervisor to see because the phone is easily hidden in your lap.

In 2009, a man drowned in Illinois.

The lifeguard on duty was reportedly texting.

A boy in Ireland suffered the same fate.

And Fisher says the behaviour is part of a generational disconnect that’s being noticed across the globe.

“They (lifeguards) don’t take the job as seriously as they used to,” he said. “This is something that we need to have a zero-tolerance type of attitude from the employer’s side.”

There have been no reported complaints about lifeguards with fast fingers at city pools and beaches, according to Gilles Parent, manager of complexes, fitness, and aquatic venues.

In the summer, about 450 students work as lifeguards.

They’re paid an hourly wage of $11 to $12 and usually put in 35 hours a week.

And the rule is all cell phones off-deck.

“We take it very seriously,” said Parent.

Four city beaches are opening Saturday where lifeguards are supervising from noon to 7 p.m.

Walker says with the huge responsibility of keeping a close eye on swimmers, it’s easy to turn down the temptation to text.

“It’s a little bit like people who are texting and driving. It’s like ‘what are you thinking?’ It seems pretty obvious.”

Water safety stats

  • About 500 people die every year in water-related incidents (In 2006, 508 people drowned in Canada)
  • 58% of drowning deaths occurred during recreational activities
  • 57% of drowning deaths occurred while swimming or boating
  • 61% of drownings occur in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and waterfalls
  • 6% of all drowning deaths (32 total) occurred in private pools
  • Drowning is the second leading cause of preventable death for children under 10 years of age
  • 85% of drowning deaths were male and 15% were female

— Source: Lifesaving Society

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