The Safest Swimming Hole in Tennessee: Dollywood’s Splash Country

There is absolutely NOTHING my kids love more than spending a hot summer day cooling off on some crazy-cool water attractions at Dollywood’s Splash Country. That’s why I am relieved to know that when I take my kids to Splash Country, (while I do my part to keep alert to where they are and what they’re doing) I can also rest and relax knowing that my children are in the hands of some of the best-trained lifeguards in the industry!

On our most recent visit there, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Jordan Leach, Splash Country’s Aquatics and Safety Operations Manager. Jordan showed me a lot of the ins and outs of this amazing water park with insights into what it takes to have Tennessee’s ONLY Platinum Award-Winning Lifeguards. Here’s some of what I learned:

Water Park Accountability- How Does Splash Country Ensure Guards Do Their Job?

Three times every summer, Dollywood’s Splash Country has audits performed—unannounced and undercover checks performed by a third party, Ellis & Associates. These auditors visit Splash Country just like any other guests, and spend the day observing the lifeguards and discreetly videotaping them doing their duties.

At the end of the day, the auditor will let the management team know they are there. Then, they will watch the videos with Splash Country staff, and based upon what they have observed, will award a score. There are three possible scores: “Deficient” (does not meet the standards), “Meet” (meets standards), or “Exceed” (exceeds standards). Dollywood’s Splash Country just received its 13th consecutive “Exceed” score in June 2017 – meaning they have not received lower than “Exceed” for the past four and a half years!

What is Ellis & Associates?

Ellis & Associates has been acknowledged as the leader in innovation for the aquatics industry, working with more than 600 organizations in the United States and around the world, servicing more than 100 million guests each year, training upwards of 40,000 lifeguards every year, and conducting more than 2,000 Aquatic Safety Operational Audits per year. The firm is dedicated to the prevention and elimination of drowning events through proactive aquatic risk management, providing lifeguard instructor training, aquatic risk management services and more.

E&A has developed many of the standards of safety and training that are used in lifeguard and water safety all over the globe. They are also the first training organization to define a practicable objective when it comes to lifeguard scanning, incorporating a proactive element to lifeguard training that could be measured and evaluated. This is called the “10/20 Protection Standard.”

Lifeguard Expectations and Requirements

The 10/20 Protection Standard ensures that a lifeguard is able to recognize a guest in distress within their zone of protection area in 10 seconds and then be able to reach them and give them aid within 20 seconds of recognition.

Dollywood’s Splash Country certifies and licenses all of their lifeguards and lifeguard instructors via Ellis & Associates, because the management at Dollywood has done their research and chosen the best. E&A’s International Lifeguard Training Program (ILTP) is universally accepted and produces lifeguards that perform at a higher level than those of other training agencies.

This means that all 250 (or so) Splash Country hosts go through the 30-hour training, which is completed in three days before the season begins. This training, the expense of which is covered by Dollywood’s Splash Country, covers CPR, how to watch the water, swimmer safety, basic First Aid, and how to respond to spinal injuries.

E&A requires four hours of in-service training per month to maintain certification, so Splash Country does this for their Lifeguards by requiring them to go through one hour of “rescue-ready skills” training per week.

What You’ll Notice When You Watch Splash Country Lifeguards

So, if you were to watch these Platinum-Award-winning Lifeguards for a while, what could you expect to see? Well, I did watch them, and here is exactly what I saw: efficiency, organization, super-attentiveness, and friendly faces!

Jordan explained to me that the safety strategies at Splash Country are all the same, and yet different according to the size of the attraction. For instance, at Mountain Waves (the wave pool) you will notice the lifeguards remain in their chairs, but then stand when the waves are in action, while the lifeguards at Downbound Float Trip (the lazy river) will “rove” – walking back and forth through their zone the entire time.

If a lifeguard is approached by someone, they must maintain their skill strategy at all times. They also only have only a few seconds, to talk to them, while doing their job. If it’s a conversation that will take longer than a few seconds, they will whistle to the nearest guard and motion for them to watch their zone until the conversation is over. You won’t see this happen often.

The lifeguards do not sit still, and they do not just look around willy-nilly wherever they feel like looking. They each have a specific zone they must watch, and are trained to continuously move their heads up and down, left and right, and then perform a “foot sweep.” A “foot sweep” means they will look down in the area right in front of their chair/standing position, because this is an area that is actually not in their direct line of vision. So many parents advise their children to stay and swim “right in front of the lifeguard,” but did you know this is one of the places MOST water safety issues take place? It’s the hardest for the lifeguard to actually see, so the “foot sweep” is done every few seconds to ensure that they are constantly checking this part of their zone.

The lifeguard must maintain the “10/20 Protection Standard” at all times, taking ten seconds to scan his/her zone, and twenty seconds to respond to an emergency. Studies show that guests in distress have about 30 seconds before unconsciousness, so lifeguards want to catch them in distress while they are still on top of the water, and hopefully still conscious.

Every five minutes the lifeguards will change position for a few seconds, to get a different perspective. This is called the “Five Minute Strategy” and helps them to stay vigilant within their zone.

The lifeguards will rotate to a new zone in 30 to 45 minutes intervals. They work four positions/zones and then have a break, then work four again and have another break. Each lifeguard usually works 30 to 40 hours per week, including their one hour in-service training.

In addition to the well-trained guards, there is also a First Aid Station, with licensed EMT’s on duty. These safety professionals go through training together with the lifeguards, so there is cross-training going on among all hosts in both First Aid and water safety.

The next time you visit Dollywood’s Splash Country with your family and friends, take a few minutes to watch the lifeguards, and appreciate how diligently they are working to ensure that everyone has a fun and safe visit.

Do you think YOU could become a Splash Country Lifeguard? Stay tuned for another post coming soon that will tell you all about what it takes to become a Splash Country Lifeguard, and how Dollywood’s Splash Country keeps their lifeguards happy and motivated!

By | 2017-08-01T16:22:06-04:00 July 18th, 2017|Water Park|0 Comments

About the Author:

Teronya Holmes (Dollywood Insider 2016-2018, 2019-2021), a native of Kingsport, Tennessee, has been a fan of Dolly Parton her entire life, having great admiration for her beautiful voice, song-writing and story-telling ability and Dolly’s uplifting attitude and outlook on life. Teronya has enjoyed visiting Dollywood since its opening in 1986. She and her family, including her husband and two sons, love the adrenaline rush from all of the great rides and attractions! Her favorite time of year to visit is during the Christmas season when the spirit of the season shines especially bright at Dollywood! Teronya blogs at ChristianTravelingMom.com and has written for various travel industry publications, including TravelingMom.com as “Storytelling TravelingMom.” Currently, she serves as executive director of the Holy Friendship Collaborative, mobilizing the Church to address the problem of addiction in Southern Appalachia. Teronya considers it a great honor to have this opportunity to share her love of Dollywood and the Smoky Mountains with everyone!
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