Lifeguards voice wave of complaints to advisory board

Patrons may have been swimming in water untested for over a year

Posted: Friday, February 11, 2011

A state health inspector said records indicate that the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool was not tested for the dangerous coliform bacteria for more than a year. That health official is working with pool managers to bring the pool back into a regular testing cycle. The city’s parks and recreation superintendent said some testing may have been done, and the matter is being taken very seriously.

MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire
MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire

Water testing, and other practices and policies, brought head lifeguards together to submit a letter of concern to the Aquatic Facilities Advisory Board Wednesday night and make their concerns public. “The pool has not submitted bacteriological testing for over a year,” head lifeguard Jess Parks said. “It is very important for public health. It is very scary.”

According to Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation health officer Jason Wiard, the pool had an exemplary testing schedule under 30-year pool manager Dave Lewis.

“Dave knew all the ins and outs,” Wiard said. “He could walk in and hear something wasn’t running. He had a track record of perfection and based on his thorough and timely testing the pool received a variance, they only had to test every four months. When we lost Dave we had some really big voids to fill it appears.”

Lewis retired in Dec. 2009 and Amanda Throndsen became interim pool manager but left in April 2010. Newly-hired manager Dan Chance is arriving next week. ABP aquatics manager Karin Jacobi, who has been filling in as pool manager since April, submitted her resignation during the board meeting. Sean Tucker, hired as Diamond Park Pool manager, has aided in staff supervision at ABP while organizing his own duties.

Wiard stated the last documented complaint about the pool was 2003, until the recent concerns. There have been a number of complaints within the past six months concerning rashes and contact dermatitis after pool use. The complaints came from regular use swimmers.

“I think it has to do with staffing issues,” Wiard said. “They didn’t have a true on-site manger full-time that was consistently at the pool. I went in and talked to Karin about water sampling because I hadn’t received any reports, they had none, and they hadn’t been doing any sampling since Dave left. It has been over a year.”

Wiard took away the pool’s variance and made an official request in January 2010 for the pool to begin testing. He is awaiting confirmation that the pool has started monthly testing again.

“I always try and work with my clients and educate them,” Wiard said. “Because if I can teach them and change their behavior than I can get them to stay in compliance. Their honest contention is not to be out of compliance, sometimes things just fall through the cracks.”

The ABP does do a testing for PH and chlorine levels three times a day.

The more critical bacterial testing requires picking up a kit from a certified laboratory, taking a water sample, and returning it to the laboratory. If the laboratory finds a “hot sample” it contacts DEC first than the pool. All businesses with swimming pools and spas in the borough are required to do the monthly tests.

“It is a more serious test because they will be checking for all sorts of creepy crawlies that may be in the water,” Wiard said. “To not do it in over a year is a bad thing because they did have such a great track record. To get a variance request to not check your water every month is a big deal, you have to be really, really good.”

Wiard also stated that an issue of complaints of excess bather load, the number of people allowed in the pool at a given time, is more of a concern due to the resulting loss of chlorine. The pool is currently battling with an issue of clarity in the water.

There was also a lifeguard concern placed in their letter to the oversight board of seeing a pool employee putting chlorine in the pool while swimmers were still in it.

“That would be a definite no-no,” Wiard said. “For the most part they have hit a road bump and they are getting over it I think. No notices of violation have been issued as of today. I have been down there working with them. They have called me several times asking if I could help them with certain things and we trouble shoot it together.”

CBJ Parks & Recreation Superintendent Sheila Fisher said Thursday that the issues are being addressed.

“I am currently researching each and every one of their concerns to find out in detail where a problem area may lie,” Fisher said. “I have set a meeting with the head guards for Feb. 16 at 5:30. I do know for a fact that two tests have been conducted, but I haven’t seen the results, one was done the end of December. I wasn’t aware of some of these issues but the city wants to take care of them and we want the pool patrons to have a positive experience.”

Augustus Brown Swimming Pool head lifeguards presented a letter to the Aquatic Facilities Advisory Board Wednesday evening in the City Hall Assembly Chambers citing a number of concerns that they say pool management has offered little or no response to addressing.

“There are a group of us who are head lifeguards at August Brown Pool who wanted to come down here and have our voices heard,” Parks said to the board. “We have some safety concerns with some things happening in the pool right now and some anticipated safety concerns.”

Parks stated that, collectively, the concerned lifeguards have more than 50 years experience as certified, professional lifeguards and wanted to make themselves available to the board to answer questions.

AFAB member Tom Rutecki said the public comment should be put in the future agenda of the March meeting as a number of letters of concern were received and they wanted to give the Parks & Rec Department a chance to respond.

“Because this is new to us I would like to have the chance to go through the letter and provide an update,” added Juneau Deputy City Manager Kim Keifer. “We would like to schedule a number of meetings in the next month to see what is going on with these issues and address what is being done. This is new information we just got.”

Five specific complaints were outlined in the letter including the testing issue.

Lifeguards also said pool chemicals are at times added by staff members who have not been trained in the proper use of chemicals, a direct violation of OSHA regulations. The letter states that the Certified pool operator should be responsible for the addition of any chemicals necessary to maintain safe and clean water for patrons.

Another concern in the lifeguard letter was an automated external defibrillator (AED) battery they said was left expired for months despite staff documenting this problem. The current battery was “borrowed” from another CBJ facility, they said, but a new one still has not been ordered. They said the extra battery has an expiration date from last July.

The letter said lifeguards also are being left in the facility unsupervised by a head lifeguard or manager for approximately 30 minutes each day, which they say is a direct violation of the AGB Pool emergency procedures which require two staff members trained in the extraction of patrons from the pool who are unconscious or have a suspected spinal injury.

Lifeguard evacuation procedures in case of fire require that a head lifeguard obtain an electronic key card from a locked box in order to escort patrons to JDHS until EMS personnel arrive, but lifeguards do not have a key that allows them access to this locked box, they said. They said that issue has also been documented and reported to management with no apparent resolution, they said.

Lifeguards also said staffing shortages resulting from recent cuts have had a negative impact on staff morale and has led to increases in unpaid overtime.

“It begs the question, is it really in the best interest of our community to have a teenager, fatigued from many hours of work, being the sole person responsible for the lives of Juneau’s children?” the letter asks.

Board members were also told of the Head Guard Log Book, a lifeguard’s daily log, which is a form of communication, used among the guards that dates and lists concerns and regular duty operations.

“We have a monthly head guard safety meeting where things are documented and discussed and we had a meeting on September 28 where we brought up a lot of safety concerns,” Parks said. “After that we all received an e-mail (from Parks & Recreation Director Marc Matsil) to attend a mandatory respect in the workplace session. The safety concerns were not addressed and we were feeling pretty frustrated by that.”

A copy of the e-mail obtained by the Juneau Empire cites Matsil as saying he has tremendous respect for their service but was shocked at their lack of respect exhibited towards him and others. Matsil did not return phone calls by press time.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or klas.stolpe@

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