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Cowabunga Bay stays open after pledge to update lifeguard training manual

Cowabunga Bay’s lifeguard training is recognized again in Nevada after health officials and park operators scrambled Tuesday to determine whether their certifications were valid.

The Texas company that trains the Henderson park’s lifeguards promised the state Health and Human Services’ Public and Behavioral Health Division that it would create a Nevada-specific manual that excludes a controversial in-water intervention protocol known as the Heimlich maneuver.

And that must have been enough for health authorities. Cowabunga Bay opened on schedule Tuesday, spokeswoman Jennifer Bradley said. A Las Vegas Review-Journal photographer was blocked from entering while other valley media were invited inside.

National Aquatic Safety Co., or NASCO, pledged to revise its manual and resubmit materials to health authorities within three days, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Eric “Chet” Jacobson said in a letter dated Monday.

Jacobson said in the letter he didn’t know his company was on notice until someone from Cowabunga Bay told him. The state’s July 16 letter was addressed to NASCO President John Hunsucker.

The state had notified NASCO that it could no longer recognize the company’s lifeguard certification courses because they taught the in-water intervention protocol is a way to save someone from drowning. Nevada law requires lifeguards to complete “a Red Cross Advanced Lifesaving Course or the equivalent.” The American Red Cross teaches the use of chest compressions and rescue breaths, known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR.

Late Monday, the Southern Nevada Health District said Cowabunga Bay, with its lifeguard training in question, might not open Tuesday. That agency’s staff was working just hours before the park was to open to determine whether lifeguards trained by other organizations would be needed as replacements.

But a health district spokeswoman said Tuesday morning that her agency learned the state’s decision to strip NASCO of its recognition was supposed to be forward-looking.

“After further discussions with the state, it was clarified that the intent of this decision was not to impact current certifications,” health district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said.

The state health department provided a copy of a letter from its chief medical officer, Dr. Tracey Green, telling Jacobson it would continue “recognition of NASCO’s lifeguards’ certification training courses — effective today.”

NASCO’s controversial in-water intervention specifies the use of “five abdominal thrusts on an unconscious, nonbreathing near-drowning victim while still in the water,” according to Nevada’s reinstatement letter.

Bradley said Tuesday that the Henderson park does not use NASCO’s in-water intervention protocol.

That conflicts with what a Cowabunga Bay lifeguard supervisor told the Review-Journal in June. The employee said lifeguards sometimes use the Heimlich maneuver in the water.

Cowabunga Bay’s lifeguard troubles started May 28, after a complaint was filed with the Southern Nevada Health District following the near drowning of a 5-year-old boy in the park wave pool. It’s unclear whether the Heimlich maneuver was used in his rescue, but a Henderson police report said a lifeguard “administered chest thrusts” while swimming with the child toward the exit ladder.

On June 9, the health district fined Cowabunga Bay $118 after an inspection showed the park had only eight of the required 17 lifeguards at its wave pool.

NASCO’s certification also has been withdrawn in at least one other state. New Jersey took away the company’s training recognition in April because of its inclusion of the in-water intervention protocol. NASCO was reinstated in May after removing the technique from its manual.

Contact Michelle Iracheta at miracheta@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5205. Find her on Twitter: @cephira.

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