The advice comes in the wake of reports of one Michigan family’s tragedy: A 10-year-old girl lost her life after going into cardiac arrest on Zehnder’s Splash Village water slide in Frankenmuth. The family is suing the resort for not administering prompt medical attention during the February 2018 incident. The girl was discovered to have had an undiagnosed heart condition, called QT syndrome, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The family accuses the staff of not calling 911 right away and for not using an automatic external defibrillator (AED) until emergency responders arrived on-scene 24 minutes later.
Setting the safety standards
While the case is still in progress, it leaves parents wondering how they can be more aware of safety protocol. What should you know about water park safety?
The IAAPA, formerly known as the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, has insight. This global association, based in Orlando, Florida, serving the “attractions industry,” as it’s called. It supports more than 6,000 attraction, supplier and individual members from more than 100 countries.
“Providing a safe, secure environment to our guests is a universal goal for all members of the industry,” says Susan Storey, IAAPA’s global communications director. “If an accident occurs anywhere in the world, it can have an effect and global impact almost immediately.”
Storey says safety is a shared responsibility between the park and the guest.
“It is important parents remain active participants with their children when visiting a park. No one understands children the way parents do,” she says.
Water park safety tips
The IAAPA offers the following tips for parents:
1. Understand the ride.
Most water parks post descriptions of rides online, on the park map and at the entrance to each attraction. Review that information to understand the nature and thrill-level of the ride as well as any swimming-level requirements, age, height, weight or health restrictions.
2. Make sure you are in good physical shape.
A water slide provides an exciting, active, physical experience. You should be healthy to enjoy it safely. Pay attention to medical guidelines/warnings and restrictions posted at the entrance to all attractions.
3. Dress appropriately.
Avoid swimsuits that have exposed metal or hard plastic rivets, zippers, buttons or decoration. These items can scratch the surface of the slide and that can create an injury for a future rider, as well as become potential hazards, and get caught on the slide or attraction. Water shoes/water socks are encouraged as surfaces can become hot from the sun.
4. Follow safety guidelines.
Always ride in the correct rider position and hold onto handles provided. Proper rider positions are described and/or illustrated at the ride, as well as shared by the ride attendants. Follow all safety guidelines that are posted, and instructions given by the park attendants and lifeguards.
Parents should make sure their children can understand and follow safe and appropriate ride behavior. If you see any unsafe behavior or condition on a ride, in the park, in the pool or elsewhere, report it to a supervisor or manager immediately.
5. Have a plan.
Upon arrival at a park, families should designate a meeting place just in case they get separated. Parents should also point out what park employees/lifeguards look like to their children, so they know who to approach if they get lost or injured.
While lifeguards are present to monitor guest safety, Storey says they should not be considered supervision for children when it comes to water safety.
“Park guests should understand lifeguards are not babysitters and they are not a substitute for a parent’s watchful eye,” she says. “A lifeguard’s job is to enforce rules, scan, rescue and resuscitate.”
Guidelines should be followed accordingly, and parents should be mindful of their child’s competence, skill level and strength.
“Parents know their children and should not try to push them beyond their abilities and comfort levels in the water,” Storey says.
It is the same advice that Storey takes to heart when it comes to her 7-year-old son, Aiden. Mother and son often visit water parks together.
“We talk about what he wants to do,” she says. “I never force him to go on something he is not ready for – even if I believe he will have fun once he’s on it. I follow his pace, and I take part alongside him in wave pools and on slides. He knows he is not allowed to just run off on his own while at a park.
“As lucky as he is, he also knows (that for) as much fun as we have, he must always follow the rules or we will head home.”