Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lifeguard relives drowning of boy, 5

She had never seen the rules requiring adult supervisors

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THE lifeguard in charge when a five-year-old boy drowned told an inquest yesterday that she would not have allowed 95 small kids in the pool had she known city rules required adult chaperones in the water.

But Christa Buccini had never seen those rules.

"The kids wouldn't have been able to go swimming" had she known, Buccini told the inquest before Provincial Court Judge Susan Devine.

Buccini also testified that she wanted five teachers and a parent volunteer from St. Adolphe School to be on the pool deck, but she was too busy to approach the school's chaperones, who were in the observation room in their street clothes.

Buccini was in charge of the entire Margaret Grant Pool building the morning of last June 27, but didn't know how many kids were on the school outing, how many could swim, or how many needed flotation devices.

Although Buccini had recently taken a course that qualified her as a pool supervisor, the paperwork confirming her certification was not issued until another five days after the drowning of Joshua Harder.

The 95 children in the pool were in kindergarten through Grade 4.

Teachers testified last week that they believed the pool required them to stay in the observation area.

"That would never happen, no," Buccini told the inquest.

"I think the teachers should be supervising their kids during their activities. I expect them to be out on the deck," Buccini told Devine.

Buccini said she was on the deck at the pool's midpoint watching about 30 children who had to swim qualifying laps so they could go into the deep end, and so was too busy to tell the teachers to come out on the deck. The teachers should have been helping kids put on life-jackets, she said, but instead, one of the other two lifeguards was doing that chore.

"There were plenty of kids still waiting to do their laps when the drowning occurred," she said.

Nevertheless, she said, "I never said it was not safe."

Buccini also told Crown Attorney Kerry Pearlman that she had never seen the city policy that requires one adult in the pool for every four kindergarten students and children under 42 inches in height.

Lawyer Garth Morang, representing the Manitoba Teachers Society, asked Buccini in which drawer in which filing cabinet in which basement the policy could possibly have been kept that she hadn't seen it in her years as a lifeguard.

"I find it incredible that you had been working there almost four years and not seen it," Morang said during his questioning.

"I've never guarded kindergartens before," she said.

Buccini has been a lifeguard since September 1999. She was in charge that tragic day because the pool's acting supervisor was at Bonivital Pool.

Buccini said she placed toys and two floating mats in the pool that morning, and met briefly with the other two lifeguards.

She learned that a large school group was coming, but did not have exact numbers. As for the kids' swimming abilities, "I had no idea."

None of the lifeguards measured kids' height before letting them into the pool, she said. It is up to kids to decide if they need a life-jacket in the shallow end, she said: "Any child can go in the shallow end."

She testified that there is no formal list of rules that lifeguards are required to follow in giving kids' groups a safety talk before they enter the water. She said the talk did not mention that the shallow end slopes from 28 inches to 48 inches at the rope separating shallow end from deep -- even though many of the kids that day would have been over their heads in four feet of water. "I've never been told to say that," she testified.

Buccini said she had supervised at least 10 previous exclusive pool bookings by school groups, and teachers were on the deck at every one of them. "This was the first experience that it didn't happen," she said. "The more eyes, the better, I probably would have said."

She said lifeguards greet with relief the sight of parents accompanying little kids into the pool.

Gerald Mirecki, the city's manager of recreational services, told reporters outside the Law Courts Building that he will not draw any conclusions until he hears all witnesses. But, he said, "we have had the policies and guidelines in place forever."

Joshua's mother, Kristin Harder, told reporters she could not believe that lifeguards would not have measured her son.

"This lifeguard knew nothing," she said. "This is the pool's job."

Added her husband Rudy Harder: "My son should not have been there that day, it's clear."

The inquest is scheduled to run to the end of next week.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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