June 5, Antioch, Calif. - An 80-year-old man collapsed and stopped breathing. A pool service technician at the scene began performing CPR until a police officer arrived with a defibrillator, kick starting the man’s heart. Shortly after he began to breathe again and regained consciousness.

June 18, Naples, Fla. - A service tech happened to spot a little girl in a pond flailing her arms. He raced toward her and pulled the 5-year-old out using a pole. She wasn’t breathing. After a series of chest compressions, she coughed up the water and eventually recovered.

Both stories have happy endings, but not because either Good Samaritan knew cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In both cases, a 911 dispatcher instructed the rescuers how to perform basic first aid, according to local news reports.

“He didn’t have any clue how to begin CPR … He was yelling for somebody to help him,” recalls Sarah Evans, an emergency dispatcher with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. She could hear the panic in his voice as he repeatedly compressed the girl’s chest, then the gurgling of the girl as she began to breathe. Evans was on the phone with him for about three minutes, “but honestly it felt like a lifetime,” she says.

Florida summers are fraught with accidents in the water and that same day, Evans took another call concerning a possible drowning. For her, it was all part of the job. For the men who assisted those two people who nearly died, these were extremely memorable events.

Few know what to do

Aquatics consultant Dr. Alison Osinski is frequently called upon to be an expert witness in drowning cases. She’s seen multiple instances where a pool service provider was the first responder at the scene of an accident. These scenarios commonly play out at a homeowner association or apartment complex where a child has slipped past a gate only to be discovered floating unconscious by the service tech. “They want to do something, but they don’t know what to do and they panic,” Osinski says.

While no formal studies have been made, Osinski estimates that a majority of techs haven’t received any first-aid training, and she believes that needs to change.  “We’re not saying they should be lifeguards, but they should have some basic water-rescue skills,” Osinski explains.

Because the minutes between losing consciousness and death are precious few, having a handle on the basics, such as knowing how to use a reaching assist or floatation devices, can make all the difference.

Accessible AEDs

American Pool Enterprises is headquartered in Owings Mill, Maryland, a state that’s leading the charge in requiring commercial pools to have automatic external defibrillators. This electronic device shocks the heart to re-establish normal contractions and can be a critical lifesaving mechanism. While CPR can sustain life long enough for an emergency responder to arrive, an AED can bring someone back from the brink.

Signed earlier this year, “Connor’s Law” is named after 5-year-old Connor Freed who died in 2006 on the way to a hospital after he was discovered floating face down in a country club swimming pool. His life could have been saved had pool staff known how to operate an AED.

In addition to the Maryland mandate, a state program enables associations with semi-private pools to voluntarily provide AEDs. These are to be kept unlocked and accessible to anyone, including the untrained. That means, in the event that the “expected operator” isn’t available, the responsibility could fall on anyone willing to respond. American Pool Enterprises has been working closely with properties to meet the new requirements, as well as train lifeguards and some service technicians, how to operate the device.

Splash Pool Services, in Fort Collins, Colo., is another firm that’s equipping its service crew with first-aid knowledge. The pool management firm serves homeowners associations. “We figured that it’s better to be safe than sorry,” says president and owner Amy Casady.

Industry takes action

Because there tends to be some crossover between the lifeguarding and service departments at pool management firms, the infrastructure is in place for all employees to receive training. Independent contractors, however, will have to take it upon themselves to become CPR certified. Professional associations are spearheading efforts to educate them.

Scott Young, a member of the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association, was surprised to learn that no one in his local IPSSA chapter knew how to do CPR. “Especially considering the trade we’re in,” says Young, owner Patriot Pools in Boca Raton, Fla. A trained paramedic, Young has seen firsthand how CPR can sustain life and now hopes to share his knowledge with his colleagues. He and IPPSA Gold Coast chapter president Ana Labosky plan to launch a CPR training program for members. “We all promote water safety, pool gates and safe diving … everyone is on board with that.” CPR, he adds, is “just another facet of it.”

Likewise, the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals is incentivizing members to become CPR certified. Hours spent in first-aid training can be applied toward continuing education credits, says Michael Reed, director of professional development.

Courses offered by the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross last about four hours – a small commitment if you’re ever in a life-and-death situation.

“I’ve seen the value of it,” Young says. “It can save a life. Maybe not every time, but you can at least buy them some time. Sometimes all they need is time.”