‘It’s not my job’: SwimWell instructors refuse to help child stuck in railing at Johnsonville public pool

Swimming instructors working at a swimming pool run by Wellington City Council told a concerned customer that helping a toddler in distress who had become trapped in the railing of the main pool was ‘not [their] work”.

Incident reports of the ‘near miss’ at the Keith Spry swimming pool in Johnsonville on September 12, described by staff as ‘serious’ and by the head of Water Safety New Zealand as startling, indicate that teachers at SwimWell have made the comments to a family friend of the 3 year old.

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The woman had approached the three swimming school instructors, who were waiting for lessons to start at the bottom of the pool, for help as the girl’s father was struggling to free her and struggling to attract the attention of a lifeguard on duty. .

A customer at Johnsonville's Keith Spry pool asked swim school instructors preparing for lessons to help free a toddler caught in the pool railing.  They would have told him that it was not their job.

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A customer at Johnsonville’s Keith Spry pool asked swim school instructors preparing for lessons to help free a toddler caught in the pool railing. They would have told him that it was not their job.

“She asked them to help her, but she was told ‘not my job darling’. This caused the family friend to scream,” said documents made public under the Local Government Information and Official Meetings Act (LGOIMA).

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Swim instructors reportedly ‘turned their backs’ on the woman, who then asked for a pole to be used to help free the child.

The toddler’s father ended up getting in the water to get his daughter out.

Council documents described the incident as “serious”. They said the child’s father and family friend were upset, saying that because the instructors had taught the children to call for help when in distress in the water, their response was “totally unacceptable”.

WaterSafety New Zealand chief executive Daniel Gerrard said the country's drowning rate was a

Jacob Walti/Supplied

WaterSafety New Zealand chief executive Daniel Gerrard said the country’s drowning rate was a “disgrace” for which everyone was responsible.

The child who got stuck in the railing would have already had anxiety around the water.

Wellington City Council said in a statement released with the documents that SwimWell management has since spoken to staff involved in the incident.

The council’s operations management team would also continue to remind lifeguards to ensure parents and guardians of children in the water are actively watching them and to intervene if guests do not follow the ‘pool only’ policy. of the council, he said.

“The council takes [the] the safety of Wellingtonians using our facilities seriously. It is important that staff, instructors and parents/guardians play a role in keeping children safe while in the water.

The ‘pool only’ policy recommended that caregivers of children under 5 be in the water within arm’s reach of them.

Lifeguards, meanwhile, were tasked with ensuring caregivers were actively watching the children, as well as providing “emergency response and customer service” when swimming lessons were in progress.

The 'pool only' policy recommended that caregivers of children under 5 be in the water within arm's reach of them.  (File photo)

Ross Giblin / Stuff

The ‘pool only’ policy recommended that caregivers of children under 5 be in the water within arm’s reach of them. (File photo)

“Lifeguards need to be proactive and liaise with coaches, swimmers, LTS [Learn To Swim] instructors and participants when needed, as they can assist with rescues and treatment if needed.”

The council, which manages the Keith Spry Pool, could not provide comment on Sunday beyond the information contained in the documents made public.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Daniel Gerrard said all New Zealanders had a responsibility to help tackle the “national disgrace” that was our annual drowning statistics.

“Every one of these situations that we can take and learn from is really, really important.”

Moms, dads and whanaus should make sure they’re in the water and within easy reach of children at all times, Gerrard said.

While he expected lifeguards at pool complexes to be ‘there and ready to go’ and to monitor incidents like what happened at the Keith Spry pool, ‘they are not babysitters . “That’s why this active supervision is so, so important.”

Regarding the swim instructors’ response, Gerrard said context was key – if they had been teaching a lesson it would make sense that they would prioritize the safety of their students first, but if they were preparing for a lesson, he would have expected them to be a bit more responsive.

“They teach water safety techniques…You hope everyone gets involved.”

There was a nationwide shortage of lifeguards and swim instructors, Gerrard said.

New Zealand’s under-5 drowning death rate has fallen over the past two decades, according to data from WaterSafety New Zealand.

In 2000, approximately 12 preschoolers a year died from drowning. By 2019, that average had fallen to four deaths per year – none of which happened in swimming pools

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