With summer heat sizzling, you may be looking to cool off at a public pool or water park but when a lifeguard is on duty you could have a false sense of security.
12 News found out training doesn't necessarily guarantee a guard is fit to save a life. Even the best lifeguards deal with dangerous distractions.
Debbie Meek is the aquatic director at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale, where lifeguards come for training. She says just because a guard is certified doesn't guarantee they're even a good swimmer, so parents need to do their homework.
“Go to the aquatics office of the place that you're going to bring your children and ask them their protocol: 'Do you take their certification or do you put them in the water and test their skills?'” Meek said.
She also explained there are different types of certification you should understand.
“If you have a shallow water (certification), you can work in a water park that doesn't have water higher than 4 feet but that is really for the person who isn’t a strong swimmer and really could not swim out and grab someone,” Meek said.
Meek does background checks on guards at her center but even if someone looks good on paper and in the pool, they could have other problems on the job.
Gigi Connolly spends her spare time volunteering at Valley community centers, where she teaches fitness classes in the water with lifeguard standing by.
She continues to see distracted lifeguards using their phones, chatting and just plain not paying attention.
“They have a tendency to be sleepy in the morning when I was teaching classes,” Connolly said.
“Eventually, you're going to be tired. You're going to become bored with your surroundings,” Colin Williams with the Red Cross said.
Williams admits you can't train for becoming tired and zoning out.
Water parks like Wet ‘n Wild in the west Valley have put a new protocol in place to make sure their lifeguards are getting enough breaks.
“We just recently -- probably about two years ago -- started doing 10-minute safety breaks in the wave pool,” said Jennifer Adamatis, the park's senior lifeguard.
That means for 10 minutes everyone must leave the attraction.
In that time, all lifeguards can jump in and cool off, go to the restroom, fill their water bottles and clear their minds.
Wet ‘n' Wild expanded the concept to multiple attractions and they say the numbers tell them it's working.
"The year prior, before we started our safety breaks, we had 46 rescues throughout the summer. Our first year with safety breaks, we only had 14," Adamatis said.
The park's record is clear of drowning deaths.
Sadly, that's not the case at all public parks and pools.
The Children's Safety Zone is a website run by a volunteer named Ed Swift who continues to collect data. He started the site 20 years ago.
On June 30 of each year, he reports the total of drowning incidents and deaths for Maricopa and Pinal counties combined. He shared his data from the last 8 years with 12 News.
2010 had the lowest number with 18 fatalities and 2016 was a bad year with 28 fatalities.
In 2017, 24 people have from drowning as of June 30.
According to the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, our state has been one of the worst for drowning deaths for many years running, and it's the only one in the top four that's landlocked.
The others are California, Florida and Texas.
To prevent tragedies, lifeguards ask that you work with them to prevent drownings and never treat them like babysitters.
A lifeguard’s true role is to enforce rules and act in an emergency.
"Lifeguards’ No. 1 priority is safety but that doesn't mean we are watching everything every child does all the time,” Adamatis said. “Parental intervention is extremely important in every body of water that you go to.”
At any public facility, you can ask to a lifeguard's certification card. If you they look tired, distracted or dehydrated, you can ask for their supervisor.
© 2017 KPNX-TV