Young lifeguards honored by Red Cross

Three helped rescue 8-year-old at community pool in Owings Mills

  • From left to right: JCC lifeguards Jalina Ray, Andrew Minkin and Jennifer Siegel.
From left to right: JCC lifeguards Jalina Ray, Andrew Minkin… (Jeff Otradovec Photo, Baltimore…)
September 21, 2014|By Karen Nitkin, For The Baltimore Sun

It was the first day of camp, a busy day at the swimming pool of the Baltimore Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills. Amid the happy splashing, lifeguard Jalina Ray spotted something that didn't look right. She got the attention of fellow lifeguard Andrew Minkin, and pointed to an 8-year-old thrashing underwater.

"I originally thought it was just a kid messing around at the bottom of the pool," said Minkin, 18, a senior at the McDonogh School. "When he didn't surface after 10 seconds, I became really concerned."

A teen-aged camper pulled the boy to the surface, and Minkin grabbed him and laid him on the pool deck.

"He had a pulse but he was not breathing," said Minkin.

Lifeguard Jennifer Siegel, 18, who had just graduated from Dulaney High School in Timonium, was working as a camp counselor that day, and rushed over to assist.

"We did a two-person save," said Minkin. As the lifeguard was preparing to begin rescue breathing, the boy began throwing up, and Siegel turned him on his side to prevent him from choking.

Gradually, he regained consciousness and was taken by ambulance to a hospital for observation. The boy, who is not being identified, recovered fully.

The quick actions of the three lifeguards, all trained in Red Cross protocols, earned them recognition from the American Red Cross of the Chesapeake Region. In an August ceremony at the JCC in Owings Mills, they received pins and certificates honoring their save.

"I've made saves before," said Siegel, now a freshman at Pennsylvania State University. "But this was my first save when the victim was not awake or breathing."

She first knew something was wrong when she saw "Jalina stand up and look over at Andrew and look worried." Ray, 20, activated the emergency actions list, clearing the pool and calling 911, said Siegel, whose father, Ron Siegel, is vice president of the Baltimore JCC.

"I wasn't even really thinking about what was going on while it was happening," said Siegel, who has been a lifeguard for three years. "None of us hesitated," she said. "We all knew what we were doing."

Baltimore JCC Aquatics Director Bill Kirkner relies on about 125 lifeguards and 45 swim instructors each summer to oversee pools on campuses in Owings Mills and Park Heights, and at Camp Milldale in Reisterstown. All the lifeguards and swim instructors are instructed and certified by the Red Cross, he said.

On the day of the rescue, the pool was crowded with maybe 100 swimmers, Kirkner said. The rescued boy, who was not in a summer camp, was swimming with a snorkel.

"He is a strong swimmer," said Kirkner. "He was doing fine one second and the next second he wasn't." Apparently, the boy breathed in water that had gotten into his snorkel. He ripped off the snorkel and mask to try to get a breath, and went into an asthma attack, said Kirkner.

"It was a fluke thing," said Kirkner. "It could have happened to anyone."

All three lifeguards had been working at JCC pools for several years. Ray, of Randallstown, completed her fifth season as a JCC lifeguard and swim instructor, and is now a sophomore at Tuskegee University.

Minkin, completing his third season of lifeguarding at the JCC, said he was glad he knew what to do. "Obviously I look back and I am thankful I knew my skills," he said.

Minkin said he has seen the boy happily swimming in the months since the incident. "He doesn't recognize me but I recognize him."

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