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'You haven't protected our children'
Grandfather of drowning victim condemns GNWT, city for lack of lifeguards at Long Lake

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The grandfather of seven-year-old boy who drowned during an outing at Long Lake Beach on Thursday is demanding the territorial government and city end the foot dragging over lifeguards and bring them back to the beach after an 11-year absence.

NNSL photo/graphic

Lodune Shelley, 7, drowned last week while swimming at Long Lake Beach. Lodune's grandfather, Patrick Scott is now calling on the territorial government and the city to take action and bring lifeguards back to the beach. - Facebook photo

Throngs of beach-goers on the unsupervised beach at Fred Henne Territorial Park, many of them enjoying their first day of summer holidays from school, watched in horror as Lodune Shelley's lifeless body was brought back to shore and resuscitation efforts failed.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment once manned the beach with lifeguards supplied by the city, which currently has five full-time and 11 part-time lifeguards working at Ruth Inch Memorial Pool.

But that came to end after the city was unable to find lifeguards qualified to monitor the beach in 2003. Both levels of government have pointed to each other for the inertia in subsequent years.

"I've heard the excuses of both the territorial government and the city as to why they don't have lifeguards at Long Lake," said Patrick Scott.

"To city council, I would say, you were elected to serve the people of Yellowknife. You haven't done that. You haven't protected our children."

He urges both the city and the territorial government to stop pointing fingers and take action.

"There is no reason why there can't be some kind of partnership between the two levels of government," he said.

"Our children are important, they are our future. Wake up soon please."

Trevor Kasteel, who was at the beach with his two daughters when a young girl nearly drowned last summer, is so upset by the inaction he and two other business owners are getting together build lifeguard chairs with plans to install them at the beach by the end of the week. He said they will leave it up to the GNWT and city to fill them.

"Getting the chairs built, that's step one. Then the ball's in their court," he said.

"Let's just deal with the situation, get the lifeguards on that beach someway, somehow, as soon as possible. Enough is enough."

According to the legislative assembly Hansard from May 27, 2004, the GNWT had traditionally shared the cost of stationing lifeguards at the beach with the city, which paid for about half of the $21,000 summer contract, while also providing trained staff. Then, in the summer of 2003, the city was unable to provide enough certified lifeguards at the beach.

When the contract came up for the following year, the city had enough staff but asked for the territory to pay for the entire cost of providing lifeguards, which the GNWT ultimately refused to do.

"To me that is ridiculous, you just spent $100,000 on the GNWT for a party," said Kasteel, referring to the budget for a 20-year birthday party for the legislative assembly this fall.

"You try explaining that to the face of the mother who just lost her kid."

Alayna Ward, manager of public affairs and communications with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, said the department does not currently have any plans to put lifeguards on the beach, but it will meeting with the city in the near future to review the matter with it.

When asked to speak to Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ramsay, Ward said Ramsay will not be commenting on the issue.

Mayor Mark Heyck said the city will be talking with the territorial government in the days ahead to explore its options. He emphasized, however, that the responsibility to maintain the beach rests with the territorial government.

"As it is a territorial government park it is the territorial government's responsibility to make the decision whether it's going to be a supervised beach or an unsupervised beach."

Heyck said the city has had its own problems staffing the pool in recent years. The city has had to close the pool on more than one occasion because it couldn't meet the standard for the number of lifeguards required to monitor it.

The city 's 16 lifeguards are all trained to manage recreational pools. In order to be qualified to lifeguard at the beach, the city's lifeguards would have to receive additional certification required for supervising open bodies of water.

According to city communications director Nalini Naidoo, the city does not currently offer the necessary training to certify lifeguards to the standard required to supervise Long Lake Beach. She said that in order to offer the training, the city would either have to send staff to Alberta or arrange for an instructor trainer to come up to Yellowknife.

With no plans to station lifeguards at Long Lake Beach, Ward emphasized that parents and swimmers should exercise caution when swimming there. She also reminded beach-goers that "there is clear signage that the let's users know that the beach is unsupervised and that they swim at their own risk."

Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins, who worked as a lifeguard for the city for more than 10 years in the 1990s, including two summers at the beach, criticized the GNWT's decision to cancel its life-guarding contract as a rookie MLA in 2004. He said the "Swim at your risk" signs are no substitute for having a full trained lifeguard on watch.

"There may be a sign that says caution at your own risk, but there's also a comfort level and there's also an expectation of this service," he said.

"It's a promoted beach within the city and it's well used, and I don't think it's unreasonable to have an expectation of services like this."

He said it will never be known whether having lifeguards at the beach would have prevented last week's tragedy, but he does know having lifeguards there would guarantee necessary emergency services would have been immediately available.

He added lifeguards are trained to watch for trouble and to prevent accidents before they happen.

According to a 2011 report by the Lifesaving Society of Canada, some 500 people die by drowning each year in Canada. The report also cited drowning as the second leading cause of preventable death for children under 10, and that 65 per cent of children under the age of five were alone when they drowned.

In the meantime, it will be a week of grieving for one Yellowknife family. Scott said a public memorial service for Lodune will be held at the Wilideh site at the Yellowknife River tomorrow at 3:30 p.m.

He described his grandson as a vibrant young boy that always went out of his way to help others.

"I'm just trying to cope right now," said Scott.

Signs of drowning
  • Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are unable to call out for help. The respiratory system is designed for breathing. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  • The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to
  • exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people's mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  • Contrary to popular belief, drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water's surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  • Drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  • From beginning to end people's bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

From The Journal of U. S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue

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