By Katelyn Murphy and Summer Evans
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
The Baltimore County Council will consider a bill next Thursday that would remove the requirement that lifeguards be on duty for guests to swim at privately owned hotel and motel pools.
Baltimore County is one of only two counties in the state of Maryland that still require lifeguards at hotel pools. The other county, Montgomery County, introduced legislation on Tuesday that would get rid of this requirement.
Bill 22-17, which is sponsored by Councilwoman Cathy Bevins of the Sixth District, would only affect hotel and motel pools, and would not affect pools for campgrounds, condominiums, apartments, or privately owned swim clubs. It also would not affect hotel pools with a diving board or slide.
There were around 80 people at the council’s work session on Tuesday, including business members from the hotel and tourism industry, as well as concerned community members urging the council not to pass the bill for safety reasons.
Stephanie Becker, a mother and local resident, said she has seen first-hand what can happen in swimming pools if there aren’t trained professionals like lifeguards monitoring the area and the swimmers.
In July of 2006, her son began to drown at a community pool when he was 15 years old. She said she believes her son would not be alive today had a lifeguard not been present when her son began to drown.
“My son James was an athlete and a swimmer on the team at Archbishop Curley,” Becker said. “He was in the water for five minutes before he began to drown. He suffered from a traumatic brain injury and can no longer walk or talk. If it weren’t for the lifeguard there to pull him out of the water, I would have lost my son completely.”
Since the accident involving her son, Becker has been dedicated to making sure this doesn’t happen to any other child or family. She has since advocated for trained lifeguards and staff that can excel in the use of CPR and AED equipment. She believes that if hotels and motels want to offer the amenity of a pool, they must also offer the life saving protections that come along with it.
“It’s more important to look at the safety of all guests than the cost of one lifeguard,” Becker said. “The lives they save could be yours or a loved ones.”
Members of the hotel and tourism industry were also at the work session to support the bill.
Amy Rohrer, the president and CEO of the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association, said the current legislation is hurting Baltimore County and discourages tourists from wanting to stay in Baltimore County hotels due to the outdated pool rules.
“This current legislation greatly hurts Baltimore County’s tourism and economy and discourages people from wanting to stay here,” Rohrer said. “The new bill would allow guests of hotels to make the decision for themselves whether or not they want to allow their children to swim without a lifeguard present. Hotels cannot predict when they are going to be at the busiest swimming times, so many times lifeguards will sit there for hours on end with no swimmers in the pool.”
Rohrer also said that if the new bill is passed, hotels will be able to better accommodate their guests and have a lifeguard present when there are large numbers of families with children staying in their hotel.
“When hotels are expecting large groups or a high number of guests that are families with children, they almost always ensure that there is a lifeguard on duty and staff working who are CPR and AED certified,” Rohrer said. “Hotels want their guests to be safe and are prepared to keep them safe, but they also want their guests to enjoy their stay and have the best experience possible. That can’t happen if guests were promised a swimming pool online but are denied access to it when they arrive because there is no lifeguard available.”
Bevins said during the meeting that the intent of the bill is to allow people to be able to make the decision for themselves whether they want their children to swim without a lifeguard present. She said paying customers should have the right to enter the pool and not be barred from doing so because of current legislation.
County Councilman Julian Jones Jr. said that he had mixed feelings about the bill, but was leaning towards supporting it.
“I appreciate and respect safety, but I can’t help but think of the times when I take my family to hotel pools, and as parents it’s our decision on whether or not we allow our children to swim, and it is our responsibility to watch our children and protect them,” Jones said. “At the same time, I’m not here to put every lifeguard in Baltimore County out of business.”
If the council passes Bill 22-17 next week, there will be a mandated increase in signage around hotel and motel pools, saying that there is not a lifeguard present and visitors must swim at their own risk, along with signs stating that no person under the age of 18 may be in the pool area without an adult present.