More dangerous than Jaws?
More dangerous than Jaws?
Photo by Daniel Kramer

Texas City to Host Questionable International Lifeguard Training Program

Lifeguards from around the world will descend upon Texas City this week for a training program run by a Houston-based outfit that teaches a discredited technique the American Red Cross and other organizations say is potentially harmful.

Yep, it's our friends at NASCO, whose instructors teach lifeguards to give abdominal thrusts to drowning victims while they're in the water. NASCO is one of the largest lifeguard certification agencies for water parks, which is why this is a tad troubling. The American Heart Association, the United States Lifeguard Coalition and the International Life Saving Federation all say that abdominal thrusts (the "Heimlich maneuver") are at best non-beneficial and at worst detrimental.

But as NASCO founder John Hunsucker, a professor emeritus at the University of Houston, told the Houston Press in 2007, "These so-called medical experts -- screw 'em."

NASCO also claims to be on "the cutting edge of lifeguarding technology" and blames its competitors and the media for stirring up "controversy where none should exist."

Presumably, the four-day International Aquatic Safety School program will bring revenue to Texas City -- but what about overall safety concerns? NASCO's biggest critic is none other than Peter Heimlich, son of that Heimlich, who is concerned that officials' priorities are out of whack.

"According to Wikipedia, 'quackery is the promotion of unproven or fraudulent medical practices,'" Peter Heimlich told us in an email. "That's a perfect description of my father's 40-year campaign to hype 'the Heimlich' for drowning rescue. And the results aren't pretty. According to the Washington Post, besides being thoroughly discredited, its use has been associated with dozens of poor outcome cases. Lives are at risk, so I can't comprehend why public officials -- first at the Texas Department of State Health Services and now in Texas City -- are apparently turning a blind eye."

We reached out to Texas City officials for comment, but haven't heard back. We'll update if we hear back.

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