Rescue at the Aqua Center


Aqua Center supervisor and life guard instructor discusses the drill his staff will participate in. (Photo: Wendy Heise)

See pictures from the "rescue" here.

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Lifeguards at the Park Forest Aqua Center need to react in an instant and in concert should swimmers find themselves in distress. Staff stage several drills throughout the summer, and are subject to independent auditing to assess their readiness. Staff members arranged for such a drill for eNews Park Forest last week.

Matt Reihel, a supervisor and lifeguard instructor, has been at the Aqua Center for six years. He says attendance has been pretty good this summer, “We haven’t had any super-busy days, we haven’t had any super-slow days.”

He says the “Five-After-Five” typically draws a large crowd. Every afternoon, the daily rate of $10 is reduced to $5 at 5:00 p.m. The Aqua Center is open Monday through Friday until 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays until 7:00 p.m.

Reihel says he’s heard good things about the addition of the climbing wall from parents, “It gives their kids more to do.” People also seem pleased with the two new slides, but they have caused saves to go up “a lot,” according Matt. He says the saves have not been serious. Just kids who can’t swim in the deep water as well as they thought they could. Some of these have needed assistance after they went down the slides.

Then it was time for the drill.

Reihel instructed one of his lifeguards to go into the deep pool by the slides for a staged rescue. None of the other lifeguards were aware that the rescue was a drill.

“The guards in the chairs will go through everything like they would if it was a real person [in distress].”

With that, one of the lifeguards went up the climbing wall and fell to the water, floating near the surface. After two whistle blasts, lifeguards from around the facility sprang into action. The guard closest jumped into the water, and within seconds he was surrounded by several others, two who sprinted from the offices near the entrance.


The team carefully extracted the distressed swimmer from the water. The victim managed a grin, letting them know she was okay. Nevertheless, the guards had to treat her as a helpless swimmer.

“No signs of life!” Reihel shouted to his staff, letting them know what they were dealing with.

With that, the guards began CPR, one rapidly mimicking chest compressions while the team counted off together. The team readied an automated external defibrillator (AED), and applied the patches while CPR continued. This particular device, used for drills and training, talks the team through the procedure for administering a shock to the heart without actually delivering a charge.

“Shock delivered,” the machine said. “Begin CPR.”

The team continued CPR and counted together: thirty chest compressions, followed by two blasts of air from a mask.

“Do not see any changes,” Reihel said, as the team said, “Squeeze, squeeze,” placing a mask over the victim’s mouth and nose to fill the lungs with air twice.

More counting, and thirty more chest compressions, followed by two more blasts of air.

The cycle repeated several times.

“EMS arrives,” Reihel directed. Drill over.

The participating lifeguards, Tom Carreras, Ray McKrut, and Nicho Adams, said they only found out this was a drill when they arrived on scene and found one of their colleagues, Rachel Cross, in the water smiling.

Because of his proximity, Nicho Adams was the first responder. His job? “Asses the situation, get them out of the water as quickly as possible.”

Still, every second counted, and they moved quickly. Tom Carreras said he was in the staff shack reading a book, “I heard two whistles, and my friend Liz and I sprinted here. We didn’t really know what was going on.”

Ray Mikrut brought the board that was used to extract Rachel from the water, “I was over by the slide with the back board.”

The only critique? According to Reihel, they should have pulled Rachel at least six feet from the water’s edge, “You want to keep them as far away from the water as possible.”

All in all, however, the response time was exemplary, according to management.

Any words from the victim, Rachel Cross?

“Good job,” she laughed. “I’m not dead.”

She said she couldn’t help smiling throughout the rescue.

See pictures from the "rescue" here.


(Left) Staff recently conducted a Vigilance Awareness Training (surprise practice rescue) at the PFAC. Here Kayla Hodges performs chest compressions on a guest in distress while Larry McKrut (on the right) prepares to monitor pulse. Nicho Adams (left) readies the AED for use as Tommy Carreras (behind the team) monitors the breathing and maintains an open airway. The “guest in distress” in this scenario is Rachel Cross, also a lifeguard at the Aqua Center . (Photo: Wendy Heise)

The Village’s Aquatic Safety Consultant, Ellis & Associates appears unannounced at the facility and randomly chooses a team of lifeguards to demonstrate this and other techniques three times each season.  This activity called a “Safety Audit” is video taped and used for evaluation and training.  Lifeguards unable to perform these “real life” activities can lose their license.  According to Director of Recreation and Parks John Joyce, the Aqua Center has consistently received the highest evaluations on these videotaped safety audits.