MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The staff at the Mountlake Terrace pool train and drill regularly — and sometimes elaborately — to save the lives of those they serve should something go wrong.
Most times, they never use that training.
Then there comes the rare, heart-pounding moment of action.
Recently, the staff at the Recreation Pavilion and two of its patrons were honored for their combined actions that helped save the life of a woman who collapsed and stopped breathing during a water aerobics class.
“You never know how people will react in those situations until you’re faced with them. And it was just textbook,” said Don Sarcletti, director of the city’s Recreation and Parks department.
The pool was busy the evening of Oct. 10, with multiple aquatics classes going on.
Nearby, city leaders and members of the community gathered for a Coffee with the City meeting.
Sarcletti was in that meeting when he noticed something unusual happening in the pool. At first he thought it was a drill. Then a lifeguard blew a whistle and began to get everyone out of the water.
“The minute I saw that I knew something serious was going on,” Sarcletti said.
According to the account by Fire District 1, a woman was in a deep-water aerobics class when she indicated to instructor Mary Walters that she wasn’t feeling well. The woman made her way to a ramp to get out of the pool. Walters cued lifeguards Roy Brooks and Marisa Gruhn to keep an eye on the patron.
As the woman passed Gruhn, who was in the water teaching another class, she said she was having trouble breathing. Brooks, on the pool deck, could see the woman was in distress and blew his whistle to clear swimmers from the pool and mobilize the rest of the lifeguards to assist the woman.
Walters helped the woman to the side of the pool where Gruhn and lifeguard Curtis Lee used a backboard to remove her from the water. Katrina Perry at the front desk called 911.
Other staff members assisted with clearing swimmers from the area, retrieving the pavilion’s automatic external debrillator, or AED, and gathering towels and equipment to aid staff.
On the pool deck, the woman lost consciousness and stopped breathing.
Mako Kanzaki and Cindy Bray, nurses who had been watching their children’s swim lessons, offered their help. Bray and lifeguard Lee started CPR and used the debrillator to administer a shock in an attempt to restore the woman’s heartbeat.
Firefighters arrived just after that shock — within 6 minutes of the 911 call — and found the woman still unconscious but her heart beating.
“By the time the paramedics got to the hospital … the patient was talking and breathing on her own, which is unusual when a patient goes into cardiac arrest, to recover that quickly,” said Leslie Hynes, a spokesperson for Fire District 1.
Aquatics staff who participated in the rescue were honored by the City Council at a Nov. 19 meeting.
Since then, city and fire staff have been highlighting the rescue to urge others to get CPR training.
“We know that the chance of survival for cardiac arrest increases quickly the sooner they receive CPR and treatment with an AED — and this case really illustrates that,” Hynes said.
On the night of the incident, Sarcletti rushed to the pool deck — along with the city’s police chief, who was in the same meeting — and saw the rescue efforts firsthand.
“The thing that was most important and impressive to me was the orderly fashion in which the staff responded — professional, calm, and they maintained their composure through the whole process,” Sarcletti said “I was really proud of how they reacted that night and to see that training, training, training really pays off.”
Rose Ploeg, recreation supervisor for the city, oversees safety training for staff and was pleased to see the results of that work.
Lifeguards must hold special certifications to work, and after that take state-mandated training each month. Three times a year, the Pavilion also holds a Lifeguard Expo. A limited number of people are allowed to come and use the pool for free that day, knowing that they will also be part of real-time training for lifeguards.
“We don’t do CPR on a daily basis. We’re a pool, not an ER. But we have to train just like we’d have to do on a daily basis,” Ploeg said. “You sometimes wonder, ‘Am I doing enough to give them enough training to help them be successful?’ This time it worked out very, very well.”
Why knowing CPR matters:
CPR is performed on someone known to the rescuer 70 percent of the time
100,000 to 200,000 adults and children could be saved each year if CPR were performed early enough
CPR is not just for heart attacks; about 7 million people suffer disabling injuries each year that require CPR
Source: Fire District 1
Multiple city recreation departments, hospitals, fire departments and businesses regularly offer training in CPR and how to use an AED. The next course dates for the organizations mentioned in this story:
Fire District 1: American Heart Association’s Heartsaver First Aid/CPR with AED, Dec. 15, $50, www.firedistrict1.org or 425-551-1254.
Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion:
Baby-sitter’s Training Plus, Dec. 26-28, $98, www.mltrec.com or 425-776-9173.
American Red Cross Lifeguarding, April 1-5, $216, www.mltrec.com or 425-776-9173.
April Pool’s Day, April 6, a special event that includes a free swim, life-jacket drawing, a visit from an Olympic medalist, and safety tips from medical experts.