The mother of a 17-year-old boy who was asked to check on a submerged man at the Canada Games Pool last month says the City needs to change its protocols after her son struggled with the impact of the incident.
Christine Harbidge said Friday her son and two friends were at the pool on Sept. 5 around 8:15 p.m. when a lifeguard asked him to dive down and poke a man who was at the bottom of the pool.
He came up and told the lifeguard the man didn’t respond, and was asked to repeat the action. When the second poke didn’t get a response, the lifeguard jumped in and pulled the man out.
The man, 18-year-old Nathaniel Mount, was unconscious and emergency efforts were made to save his life.
Harbidge said her son and his friends were evacuated from the pool along with other swimmers while lifeguards and paramedics worked on Mount.
“When they left the pool, my son was there with two of his friends. They honestly felt he was dead. My son had a difficult time that whole night. And what upset me was there was no follow-up,” she said.
The incident left her son distressed and upset. Harbidge has been in contact with City aquatics director Glen Cheetham since then, to find out why a teenager would have been asked to check someone underwater in the first place.
“She (the lifeguard) wasn’t aware he was a teenager. They thought he might have been one of the friends,” she said.
She has since found out it’s pool policy that lifeguards can ask bystanders for help. Harbidge wants the City to specify that on its pool signage or change the policy.
She questioned what would have happened had the person underwater grabbed her son or had a panic attack.
“It makes a lot of assumptions about sending someone down. My son hasn’t had swimming lessons, he’s not a full regular at the pool. It’s not like he’s done first aid or anything,” said Harbidge.
“I don’t want it to happen to somebody else. What if it had ended up worse? If they aren’t going to change the policy, they should put up a sign saying this may be requested and you do have the right to say no.”
Cheetham said the City has a ratio of one lifeguard for every 60 patrons. On the night in question, there were 117 people in the pool and six lifeguards on duty: three on deck and three doing maintenance, perimeter checks and other work.
In this case, the lifeguard thought Harbidge’s son was a friend of Mount. The two are only a year apart in age and both had come in with groups of friends. Mount is a Thompson Rivers University sciences student.
People holding their breath and sitting underwater is common at the pool, he said. As soon as the lifeguard realized Mount was in distress, she jumped in, got him out of the pool and started CPR.
“In this particular case, it wasn’t clear to the lifeguard whether there was simply breath holding, which happens a lot, or whether the person was in distress,” he said.
“The first time, the lifeguard didn’t think he’d touched him. So he (the teen) went down a second time to actually touch. It was a matter of seconds,” Cheetham continued.
“There’s 117 people in the pool, 40 or 50 in that zone. The guard is moving around, trying to supervise what’s happening and they are making many decisions and exercising judgment throughout.”
He said the impact on Harbidge’s son was something that wasn’t foreseen.
“What we can control and what we’ve said we will do is we will minimize the use of bystanders except where it’s critical and necessary. I do have sympathy for the impact this experience has had on her son.”
The rule now is to call bystanders as a last resort, not a first resort.
But lifeguards need the ability to call in bystanders, he said. Most of the signs around the pool are dictated by Interior Health and he wasn’t sure adding a sign would draw much attention. He did discuss it with the City’s risk manager, who said not to put up more signs.
“It has had an impact on us. It has changed our team. We have learned from it. It will impact on this pool being safer,” he said.
“However, what I have said to staff and emphasized is bystanders should only be used when it’s critical and absolutely necessary. We can’t always foresee the impact it might have on a bystander.”
The man at the centre of it all, Mount, has fully recovered and is back in Halfmoon Bay on the Sunshine Coast with his parents Jeff and Keri.
“We think her boy’s a hero,” Keri Mount said of Harbidge’s son.
Nathaniel has missed a semester of university but plans to return to TRU in January.
He’d only been away from home for five days when the pool incident occurred. No one has determined whether it was a seizure or his heart — he had no history of problems with either.
He was treated at Royal Inland Hospital and eventually moved to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. Now he’s home.
“He’s walking and talking. I can’t feed him enough,” she said.
“And there doesn’t seem to be any brain damage.”
Harbidge said her son has returned to the Canada Games Pool once, but he’s still skittish.
“My son’s doing OK. He’s been back to the pool once. He hasn’t stayed very long, which is unfortunate. I’m hoping in the future he’ll go again because it was something he enjoyed doing.”
And Nathaniel Mount has offered to meet the teen when he comes back to Kamloops, so the young man can see that he saved someone’s life.