Pride Beats Hate as City Council Passes HERO Ordinance

What happens to the anti-HERO shirts now?

As illustrated by the Houston Press's Todd Spivak in 2007, most medical and aquatic experts have stated that applying the Heimlich maneuver to a drowning victim delays, if only for a few seconds, the all-important CPR. Also, experts say that the Heimlich could cause a victim to aspirate vomit into his lungs.

But John Hunsucker, founder of Dickinson-based National Aquatics Safety Company (NASCO), doesn't have much use for mainstream scientific opinion. He's a professor emeritus at the University of Houston and, according to NASCO's website, holds degrees in mathematics, physics and engineering.

"These so-called medical experts — screw 'em," Hunsucker told the Press in 2007.

Protesting with screen print. Opponents of Houston's equal rights ordinance stand firm.
Aaron Reiss
Protesting with screen print. Opponents of Houston's equal rights ordinance stand firm.
We're not getting behind a lifeguard move that's meant for the dinner table.
We're not getting behind a lifeguard move that's meant for the dinner table.

But NASCO isn't some obscure company whose adherence to faulty science is of no practical application to the real world: It's one of the nation's largest lifeguard certification agencies for water parks, and Hunsucker has won awards from the National Water Safety Congress and the Council for National Cooperation in Aquatics. As we wrote in 2007, Hunsucker "was elected to the World Waterpark Association Hall of Fame, and, in 2005 he was recognized by Aquatics International magazine as among the industry's most influential people."

In a statement on NASCO's website, the company claims to be "on the cutting edge of lifeguarding technology. We publish our work and are open about what we do. Because of this, we will be, and have been, attacked by others whose technology and protocols lag significantly behind ours and by some of the press whose desire is to create controversy where none should exist."

It further states, "During the rescue process, we do five and only five abdominal thrusts while the victim is still in the water. These thrusts delay extrication between four to six seconds. The intent of these thrusts is to begin to initiate respiration."

The company claims to have "a fatality rate of 0.00635 per 100,000 guests in our facilities over the time period studied." (The "time period studied" is not specified in the company's statement.)

Regardless, teaching prospective lifeguards to give the Heimlich has drawn criticism from one of the Heimlichs himself — Peter, son of Dr. Henry Heimlich, who gave his name to the technique. The younger Heimlich has been one of the most vocal critics of his dad's practices, going so far as to call out the old man on a medical-fraud watchdog site.

Naturally, Heimlich was concerned when he saw that Texas officials allow NASCO to teach the Heimlich maneuver to lifeguards. The Texas Department of State Health Services requires lifeguards to "hold a current American Red Cross 'Lifeguard Training' certificate, or the equivalent certification from an aquatic safety organization."

Department spokeswoman Christine Mann told us in an email, "We have no role in determining whether or not NASCO training is equivalent to [American Red Cross]."

That responsibility "is with the individual facility owners or operators," Mann explained.

Heimlich wrote to Dr. David Lakey, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, this month, asking that the agency look into all NASCO-trained facilities to see if lifeguards are receiving training that truly is equivalent to the American Red Cross. (Heimlich made it clear that he has "no knowledge or concerns regarding any other aspects of NASCO's operations" and limited his concern to the abdominal thrust issue.)

Heimlich also advised Lakey of a 2013 decision by the Utah Department of Health not to allow NASCO to certify lifeguards in Utah, because the abdominal thrust protocol did not meet that state's Red Cross equivalency mandate.

"After careful analysis, we find that the training offered by NASCO is not equivalent to the Red Cross," a Utah health official wrote NASCO. "We find that the evidence presented is not sufficient to make a change that deviates from national standards and therefore does not meet the rule standard which requires equivalency."

One might think that a company whose dogged devotion to a technique it considers a superior life-saving measure, science be damned, would tell Utah to stick it, because why teach inferior methods when lives are in the balance? Nope. NASCO simply told Utah officials it would nix the Heimlich from its training in that state, and Utah gave the green light.

Two years before that, on the heels of a Washington Post investigation, the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority also eliminated Heimlich training for drowning victims.

Texas also requires American Red Cross equivalency, but a Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman told us in an email that it's up to "the individual facility owners or operators to determine if the lifeguards they hired have training and certification that is equivalent to [the Red Cross]."

Spokeswoman Mann also wrote, "One possibility for addressing Mr. Heimlich's desire for NASCO to modify its training may be with the CDC. The CDC is developing a draft Model Aquatic Health Code that might address resuscitation techniques. However, I would verify this with the CDC." (We're not sure what difference that would make, since, in Texas, it's still up to pool operators to decide what's equivalent to the American Red Cross.)

When we shared Mann's response with Heimlich, he told us via email: "Based on the DSHS statement, there's a hole in the state public safety net. But instead of addressing and perhaps improving the situation, Dr. Lakey's agency simply passes the buck to the CDC. Don't families who swim in Texas public pools and water parks deserve better than that?"

We're pretty sure it's a rhetorical question, but we're going to go ahead and answer it anyway: Yes, families in Texas do deserve better.

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This an article or a propaganda piece? Just because people are against something does not mean they "hate" it. 

Sadly, that's the position that too many take and equally sad that the writer has taken. 

Rather than doing a piece on the contrasting views, they chose to ridicule those who oppose the ordinance.

What the city of Houston needs to realize is that it has problems meeting its budgets for firefighters, police, road repair, etc. How are you going to find the money when youth groups start going to other cities; When schools decide not to visit the zoo or museums in Houston. 

I don't live in "Houston". I don't get to vote at the ballot. But, I will be voting with my $$$$$. I will not be taking my kids, school kids, church kids into "Houston". There so many other "family friendly" venues around here. 


Yes, good people hate evil. You may have think you have won.

For now you get to enjoy evil for a season.

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