A freshman at Como Park High School in St. Paul, Minnesota told local CBS affiliate WCCO last week that she has frostbite on her feet after being forced to stand outside in a sopping-wet bathing suit during a fire drill.
Note that this is in late February, in St. Paul, Minnesota, where temperatures were below 0 and the windchill even lower (25 below, according to the article).
Kayona Hagen-Tietz, who was diagnosed to have gotten frostbite on her feet by a doctor, was along with one classmate one of only two swimmers left in the pool and wet when the fire alarm went off for what was ultimately a drill. The school’s strict policy for these drills mandated that she evacuate immediately, without drying off, and without putting on more clothes. She also wasn’t allowed to sit in a faculty member’s car to warm up for 10 minutes, before the school finally relented.
The parents’ complaint surrounds the school’s inability to adapt to the situation and take a swimmer out of the cold and to safety.
“If I had a fire and brought my children out in that condition, you know, I’m sure I would be charged in some way or another if I didn’t instantly bring them into a neighbor’s house or someplace else,” Tietz said to WCCO. “The ultimate goal is to keep them safe and protect your children, and, in this instance, they did a really poor job.”
While fire drills during swim practice are rare, and something that most coaches (myself included) wouldn’t necessarily consider as a real threat, in northern climates and during winter months (nowhere has been immune this year, it seems, from cold weather), it’s something that all coaches should be prepared for. Administrators of schools, YMCA’s and community pools are considering their broad memberships when they plan drills such as these, and it’s not until something truly terrible like this happens that they’ll consider specifically the 20 kids in your pool, soaking wet, in their swim suits, and with the tone of school systems at present (a topic for a different forum, but I think we all have the gist of what that tone is), the time it takes for a decision to be made confidently when these issues arise can be too long.
This is an unfortunate, but important, reminder of all of us to be prepared for this type situation. We at SwimSwam are sent many pictures of swimmers outside in snow in their suits, but it’s usually with boots on, while they’re dry, and for just long enough to take a picture. If you’re coaching in a cold climate, have a plan in case a fire drill, or even worse a real fire, were to happen.