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Lifeguards recount 'extraordinary' rescue tale

Lifeguards from Splash On Waterpark received commendations for their efforts to rescue a boy from drowning

Simcoe County Paramedics honoured local lifeguards, five from Splash On Waterpark and three from the City of Barrie, in a ceremony at Centennial Beach last week for their efforts in the rescue of a 12-year-old boy.

“It’s very important to us as the lead body in the county for emergency medical care outside of the hospital setting to acknowledge and pay tribute to those people who really take the responsibility of looking after the public, such as lifeguards, said Simcoe County Paramedics Deputy Chief JC Gilbert.

“We think it’s really important to recognize that acceptance of responsibility and a job well done.”

On July 15 at around 5 p.m. a 12-year-old boy went into medical distress while on the inflatable waterpark. After being pulled from the water by lifeguards, he was transported to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre and then rushed to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. According to Brittany Gallagher, owner of Splash On Waterpark, the boy has been released from hospital and is recovering at home.

Earlier this week, Barrie Police Const. Nicole Rodgers indicated that the family of the boy has asked for privacy at this time.

Gilbert says it’s important to recognize the bravery and teamwork of the lifeguards that participated in this and any rescue.

“It’s extremely important. For some people, they’re just doing their job or it’s something they do, but to us, it’s an extraordinary event when someone can make that lasting of an impression on somebody. If it wasn’t for the public taking the initiative to get trained and learn CPR and First Aid, we could have a lot worse outcomes,” says Gilbert.

“In this case, we know this young fellow is doing quite well. It’s very much a part of the work that those lifeguards did that contributed to that.”

Mackenzie Cooke (MC), 19, Abby Morin (AM), 18 and Jessica Jury (JJ), 19, three of the five lifeguards who participated in the rescue, along with business owner Brittany Gallagher (BG), sat down with BarrieToday for an interview on Friday about the heroic act.

Q: What made you want to become lifeguards?

AM: I just love people and engaging with the public. I thought it would be a great job where you could help people, have a great time, and it’s very well paid. It beats flipping burgers. (laughs)

MC: I decided to get into lifeguarding because I'm planning on going into the medical field, so it’s a good start.

JJ: Me and my twin sister wanted to become lifeguards, because we wanted to work together. I’m also going into the medical field.

Q: Can you take me through the events of July 15?

MC: When I first saw the boy, there was another kid pulling him and he was face down. My initial reaction was, I thought it was kids play fighting, because we get that a lot. So, I whistled and I yelled, and I started walking over there. Then I realized he was unconscious, so I pulled him out of the water, I whistled and walkied. I checked his pulse and then I took off his lifejacket to try to check his pulse again. By that time, Abby was there. Then I dove and booked it for the AED (automated external defibrillator.

AM: When Mackenzie blew her whistle, everyone on shore turned. I was just hanging up lifejackets with one of my coworkers. Another coworker and I booked it to the shoreline, and I could see the victim lying on his back, with Robert (Collier, 19) and Mackenzie on top of him and I knew something was up. At that point, it was just a fight or flight reaction. Adrenaline kicks in. I yelled to Jessica for the AED and booked it out to the park. It was the fastest I’ve ever swam, I swear. When I got to the park, Mackenzie is assessing his vitals. Robert was about to commence CPR. The boy wasn’t breathing at that point. Instead, we decided to bring him to shore given that the park was so soft and we wouldn’t be able to get any depth on the compressions. About three quarters of the way to shore one of the (City of Barrie) beach lifeguards intercepted and she helped me in picking him up and bringing him to the shoreline. We got him on his back. We reassessed his vitals and at this point, he had a really strong pulse, so we decided to fore go CPR at that moment, and instead got the (oxygen) mask strapped onto him. At that point Jessica came back with the AED. We strapped that on his chest just in case things went south. At that time, the EMS was arriving.

JJ: I went to go get the AED. By the time I returned, the boy was pretty much stable. There were so many lifeguards on him I decided it wasn’t worth it for me to try to interfere. I did some training for shock. One of the boy’s brothers was still in the water so I went to go get him. We talked for a little bit. I wrapped him in a towel to try to calm him down. Once the boy was in the ambulance, I talked to his aunt and the uncle, and tried to calm them down. I helped them out to where they needed to be.

Q: Was the boy breathing the whole time?

MC: When I got to him in the water, he was agonally breathing, which means his body was gasping for air. He was completely blue.

Q: When he started taking breaths, was that a relief?

AM: We were giving him rescue breaths. He wasn’t really accepting the air because he had so much water in his lungs. You could hear the wheezing noise. When EMS took over, they intubated him.

BG: The paramedics did come back after transporting him to congratulate the team on such an amazing rescue... it was nice to have that support from the community, those emergency responders.

AM: They attributed the fact that the boy was so stable to the quickness of the reaction time and the reaction itself. EMS had a four-minute response time.

JJ: The whole guard staff... I don’t think we’ve ever worked better than that. It’s so good to have (the City of Barrie lifeguards) on the same beach. They helped us out so much. It was a really good rescue team.

Q: After the rescue, some negativity swirled around on social media. How did that make you feel? Is there any misinformation still out there that you want to correct?

BG: We think that the bystander comments (that bystanders assisted in the rescue) came from Abby’s uniform. Abby is our head lifeguard so her uniform is a little bit different...she has a bathing suit with our logo on it. We’re thinking that people might have thought she was a bystander because she wasn’t wearing a lime green shirt.

AM: At no point were there any bystanders who touched the boy.

MC: That was hard. People were saying we didn’t get him until he was onshore. But I was right there.

JJ: It was all of us.

MC: I was pretty much an emotional wreck. Pretty much every hour I was checking social media to see what they had to say about it. We were ambushed pretty hard afterward. The fact that the proper information wasn’t getting out and it looked bad on us really sucked.

I tried my hardest and the hardest thing was (personally), looking back and thinking, I could have done this (differently) or I could have done that. I know that’s a part of the process and everyone’s always going to do that. It really took a lot out of me to hear (the negativity). I was a wreck because I had to see a little boy like that.

AM: It’s the backlash, more so. The misinformation from the media... the first report that was given, he was in critical condition, they couldn’t give many details. I guess people didn’t follow up afterwards, they were just content with that negative information. People didn’t follow up in the following days, even when the media started painting it in more of a positive light that the boy was alright.

The Monday and Tuesday after the rescue we had a lot of people at the park coming over and asking us questions, completely misinformed... meanwhile, everything went according to procedure. We’re so lucky to be able to set the story straight today. Hopefully these questions will be laid to rest.

Q: On Friday, you were all honoured by the Simcoe County Paramedics in a ceremony. How did that make you feel?

MC: Amazing. Honestly, it was the best feeling ever. I went to school to be a paramedic. It was just awesome. I felt so honoured. We were doing our jobs, but we were recognized (beyond) that. To have the chief know your name...

JJ: It was definitely one of the more positive things that came out of it. We worked really well together... the whole thing just went really well. It made me feel so much better to be recognized.

AM: From the emergency responders' standpoint, obviously we’re at the bottom of the chain, but (the paramedics are) such amazing role models in our community... It highlighted that it really was a team effort. It wasn’t anyone being a hero over someone else. If we hadn’t all worked together like that, it wouldn’t have had the same outcome.

MC: It felt good to know that not only does our workplace and the beach have our back, but Simcoe County Paramedics have our back. (laughs)

Q: Has this experience changed you in any way?

MC: Personally, it was really hard on me. It took me quite a few days to come back to myself and deal with everything. I have a younger brother, so it’s a lot to take in and a lot to see. I actually went through the strike with my program, so I ended up dropping out and getting my money back. When this happened and I was a wreck, I started to think, I can’t do this. After receiving all this support, I finally feel like I can really do this, and this is what I want to do.

I know that not every situation I’m in is going to have the outcome that it did, but it’s a great start. I feel as though I’m a better lifeguard and first responder now. I want to go right back into it.

AM: In lifeguarding we’re so prepared, we’re re-certified every two years, we do training days. But, we never really expect something so critical and serious to happen. That’s why, when it did happen, it was shocking and surprising. We all went into auto-pilot and did our jobs. Afterwards, we were stunned... it took a while to process. I think this shows we’re able to perform under pressure. Now, more than ever, I’m completely confident that I could go into that medical field and do my job properly.

JJ: The situation brought us closer together. For me, I felt like I didn’t react in the same way that others did. I was sad, but I had a different reaction. A few years ago, my sisters and I had to do CPR on someone, so I’ve seen it before. I think this has just made me more ready for the medical field.

Q: What are your future aspirations?

MC: I’m going into nursing. My plans are to do two years of nursing and then one year of paramedic, hopefully. I want to try for paramedic and have nursing as my backup plan.

AM: I just graduated high school this past year. I’m going to Queen’s (University) in the fall for kinesiology. After my degree I’m hoping to gravitate toward medicine. Either emergency room medicine or sports medicine.

JJ: I went to school in North Bay for two years for rec therapy. It wasn’t really what I expected, so now I just need to think about my options. So far I’m leading toward paramedic, but I’m also thinking about being a midwife.


Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings nine years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering county matters, court, Collingwood and Barrie matters
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