Monday, July 30, 2012

Due diligence & damage control: a comparison between how a Virginia parks department and a Seaside Heights, New Jersey waterpark responded to critical media reports about their lifeguards being trained to perform the Heimlich maneuver on drowning swimmers

From NoVa parks authority teaches lifeguards discredited Heimlich maneuver by Tom Jackman, Washington Post, June 3, 2011:
(The Heimlich maneuver has) been utterly discredited as a way of rescuing a person who is drowning, and can actually do serious harm to someone who has just been pulled from the water, numerous experts say. 

Still, one aquatics company, National Aquatic Safety Company of Houston (NASCO), is training lifeguards to use the Heimlich maneuver. And the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority enthusiastically continues to use NASCO to train lifeguards at its five waterparks...

...The list of experts who reject the Heimlich maneuver (to revive drowning victims) is lengthy: The American Red Cross; the United States Lifesaving Association; the American Heart Association; the Institute of Medicine; the International Life Saving Federation and many experienced doctors and academics have strongly inveighed against doing “abdominal thrusts” for drowning victims.

...Dr. James Orlowski said he has documented nearly 40 cases where rescuers performing the Heimlich maneuver have caused complications for the victim. Orlowski is chief of pediatrics and pediatric intensive care at University Community Hospital in Tampa.
Later that day:

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

On July 10, WWOR-TV broadcast this report by investigative reporter Brenda Flanagan about four Jersey shore water parks whose lifeguards were trained by NASCO. The story included interviews with representatives of the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association warning against performing the Heimlich maneuver to revive drowning victims.

The next day, one of the water parks - Breakwater Beach in Seaside Heights - posted a statement on their website that included:
On Tuesday night, Channel 9 NY News ran a story on waterpark safety and the training of lifeguards in rescue methods...Some of the points made in the story are categorically untrue...

...Another issue raised in the story was the use of in-water abdominal thrusts. Our guards are taught to give five and only five quick abdominal thrusts to an unconscious victim in the water as the victim is being extricated to the pool deck.

...Please know that while media attempts to sensationalize a story for their benefit (their “experts” in the story of course sided with them, however there exists experts on the other side of the argument as well who were not interviewed for this story) , that Breakwater Beach is committed to ensuring the absolute safety of our guests.
I wanted to learn the names of the "experts on the other side of the argument...who were not interviewed for this story," so I asked Breakwater Beach.

Per the e-mail exchange below, the only name they provided was NASCO who, according to Flanagan's report, "refused to discuss anything with us." (time stamp 3:30).

Lou Cirigliano, Jr. (source)

Lou Cirigliano, Jr., Breakwater Beach general manager, defended the use of abdominal thrusts to revive drowning victims and suggested I contact NASCO president John Hunsucker PhD:
(He) might be able to refer you onto any other expert who agrees with his data. We do not specifically have anyone we know to recommend to you as we are not part of this “fight” but as I mentioned earlier, I am positive if all knew the data and the actual rescue (sic), you’d easily find people on both sides of the aisle.
I also asked him for a reaction comment to this quote from a May 2012 editorial in Aquatics International magazine:
(There) are times when science must be paramount, particularly when going with our gut means using people as guinea pigs. That is essentially what (NASCO) has decided to do in its use of the Heimlich maneuver for drowning rescues.
Cirigliano replied that he didn't wish to comment.