Witness to near drowning says Holmen lifeguards ‘dropped the ball’

Holmen officials said a boy is in critical condition after nearly drowning at the Holmen Area Aquatic Center this weekend.

Holmen officials said a boy is in critical condition after nearly drowning at the Holmen Area Aquatic Center this weekend.

Two local women were at the pool at the time of the incident on Saturday and they say they saw not one, but two botched rescues.

When most people head to their local pool they expect the lifeguards to be alert and ready to take action. Well that is the exact opposite of what La Crosse area moms Rachel Mahairas and Anne Ducharme said they witnessed Saturday afternoon at the Holmen Area Aquatic Center.

“Who wouldn’t want to be a lifeguard in the summer? It’s a great job, but I think at that age it’s hard to even comprehend the responsibility that you have.”

Looking to cool their kids off they headed straight for the water and that’s when they say they saw a boy no older than four struggling next to them.

“I was actually trying to get the lifeguards attention was like, “Hey, hey” and she was looking other places and I said, “Hey,” again, and I was trying to point to the child and Anne and my other friend had jumped over, dropped their own kids and grabbed this little guy who had walked into the deep end,” Mahairas said.

Ducharme who happens to be a local first responder said she immediately lost confidence in the life guards on duty.

“I had words with the lifeguard to let her know this happened right in front of her,” Ducharme said.

But both moms’ never imagined that just an hour later they would witness something far worse.

“The whistle was blown, I look up and see a gentleman lifting a lifeless child out of the pool,” Mahairas said.

Ducharme once again jumped into action, swimming to the young boy and then performing CPR.

“I was basically the first one to do anything they just accepted the help and then kind of backed off,” Ducharme said.

She continued performing CPR until first responders arrived.

“My training kicked in and I just did what I had to do,” Ducharme said.

Ducharme and Mahairas said that training did not kick in for the CPR certified lifeguards, though.

“I don’t know if there could’ve been more training or more knowledge and learning, I feel like the ball was dropped and that breaks my heart,” Mahairas said.

Holmen officials said the boy is in critical but stable condition, as far as they know. The boy’s parents were not at the pool, but he was seen with older supervisors who may have been siblings. Mike Brogan the head of the Parks and Recreation Department declined to do an interview but stood by the way the lifeguards handled the difficult situation, and said that passing first aid and CPR duties off to someone more qualified like a first responder or doctor is protocol.