Lifesaving And Emergency Equipment

By Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti

No one likes to contemplate the possibility of a water-related accident, but the time you spend this spring preparing lifesaving and emergency equipment may mean a safer summer season.


Sorting through the variety of available equipment can be challenging. “There is a lot of junk being marketed and distributed,” says Gerald M. Dworkin, consultant for New Hampshire-based Aquatics Safety & Water Rescue, a developer of aquatics-safety educational curricula. “If a backboard has more flex than a diving board, it is not appropriate.”

Dworkin suggests camps prepare for three potential water-related emergencies: spinal immobilization, hypoxia and water rescue.

Spinal Immobilization
In some water-rescue and emergency cases, it is essential to immobilize the accident victim until hospital personnel can determine whether there has been a spinal injury. To handle these cases, the camp should be prepared with sufficient equipment to pass him or her off to emergency personnel and, eventually, the hospital, without allowing excess movement and additional injury.

Equipment for these situations includes a rigid backboard with a maximum length of 72 inches and width of 18 inches (any larger than that and the backboard may not fit in an ambulance or on an emergency flight helicopter). The backboard should be plastic to allow for decontamination, and include a strap or harness system as well as an attached head-immobilization system that will not bend or twist.

In addition to the backboard and its ancillary equipment, Dworkin recommends that camps have a cervical collar on hand, as EMS departments typically cannot transport a patient unless he or she is wearing one. If a camp does not have one, it might secure the victim to a backboard only to have EMS personnel remove the person, put on a cervical collar, and re-secure the victim to the backboard. This additional movement can be quite dangerous to a person with a spinal injury. Have two cervical collars available--one for adults and one for children. Since the American Red Cross training does not include cervical-collar training, Dworkin recommends that camp staff acquire separate training on using this device.

Finally, camps should have a basket stretcher on hand in case an accident victim needs to be carried down an incline, such as a mountain. This basket stretcher should have a floatation collar and equipment so that the basket will float even if there is an accident during water transportation of the victim.

Management Of Hypoxia
Hypoxia is the condition of not receiving adequate oxygen, as can happen in water-related accidents when breathing is compromised. Major pieces of equipment include a positive-pressure ventilation device, and a “bag-valve mask” (BVM) resuscitator. The latter is important because, while CPR tends to deliver 16-percent oxygen to the victim via the human rescuer, the BVM resuscitator will deliver 21-percent oxygen--a nearly 50-percent increase. The camp also may wish to stock an oxygen tank and regulator, plus a non-re-breathing mask to administer oxygen in the case of respiratory and cardiac compromise.

Additionally, about three-quarters of victims will vomit during the administration of CPR, says Dworkin, so it is important to include a manual, hand-held suction device to clear debris from the airway. These devices are typically easy to use: measure the catheter from mouth to earlobe of the patient, insert the catheter that distance into the patient’s mouth and airway then suction for five to 15 seconds.

Water Rescue
Water-rescue equipment is often the bailiwick of the lifeguarding staff; members should be prepared to have and use:

  • A pair of polarized sunglasses to assist in seeing in sunny, reflective conditions. Dworkin recommends that the camp either supply these from its own stock as a piece of equipment or require guards to purchase them as a condition of employment.
  • A durable rescue buoy, either a tube or can design
  • A mask, fins and snorkel for lake rescue
  • A rescue paddleboard made of soft foam or fiberglass and with a fin
  • A rowboat, kayak or jet-ski, to travel across large bodies of water.

Develop A Plan
“If I owned a camp, I would develop a first-aid and rescue plan,” says Alexander Trott, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. This begins with having personnel trained in basic first aid and basic CPR, both components usually included in lifeguard training.

To prepare for the most common emergencies, Trott recommends having basic first-aid materials on hand, including acetaminophen or ibuprofen, splinting materials and other means of dealing with cuts, bruises and sprains. He also suggests posting phone numbers for emergency personnel not located at the camp in a highly visible location, and writing an emergency plan.

Dworkin agrees with this assessment, and further recommends that camps work with the local EMS service to make sure that its emergency plan meets EMS requirements. Camps should invite the local EMS to visit, at which time it can become familiar with the camp, the personnel and any unique challenges that might arise during response to an emergency. During the visit, the EMS personnel and camp should make sure that their emergency equipment is compatible and can be easily transferred.

Also during the meeting, the camp should make arrangements with the EMS personnel to trade equipment in the case of a rescue or emergency response. For example, if camp personnel have already secured the victim to an EMS-approved backboard, used a cervical collar, or made use of oxygen, these items can be transferred to EMS to aid in the transport of a victim to the hospital. The EMS service will leave another backboard (or other emergency response item) at the camp for use, and a trade can be arranged for the next day.

Camps always hope for a season free of emergencies, but with a little preparation and the proper equipment, any eventual accidents and emergencies can be handled with the best care of the victim in mind.

Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is a writer, editor, speaker and owner of Hilltop Communications, based in Centerville, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at