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Lifeguards save the day

Palanca
Palanca
Buck Zurga (Photo by Debbie Kelly)
Buck Zurga (Photo by Debbie Kelly)

Andrea Palanca knew something was wrong immediately.

“When I saw her there, I thought, ‘that’s not normal. She should not be down there.’”

There being the four-foot end of the pool at the Maumelle Aquatic Center and she being a wayward 5 year-old girl, floating face down.

Palanca and Buck Zurga, both lifeguards at the pool, sprang into action that Monday morning.

“Andrea got there first,” Zurga said.

“I tapped her on the shoulder first, to get a response,” Palanca said. “She was right by the edge, so I leaned over and pulled her out of the water.”

Zurga, 18 and a recent graduate of Little Rock Catholic, and Palanca, who attends Maumelle High School, are both first-year lifeguards.

“I got my Red Cross training in April, May,” Zurga said. “I got my training in May,” Palanca added. “When I learned CPR, I never thought I’d have to use it.”

Use it they both did.

“When she didn’t respond, I told Buck to call the whistle,” Palanca said. “That means blow the whistle three times for saving someone.”

This was around 11 a.m., and the Maumelle Fire Department was notified of the emergency and dispatched at 11:02 a.m. The first fire truck got there two minutes later, but it was a lifetime, and a life, away at the pool.

“I checked for a pulse, and to see if she was breathing,” Palanca said.

“No pulse, no breathing,” said Zurga. “I told [Andrea] we needed to start CPR.”

The pair went into a two-man CPR routine with Zurga doing the chest compressions and Palanca doing the rescue breathing.

Training calmed the pair’s racing adrenaline.

“I started with two breaths, and for someone that age, 5, we do 15 chest compressions,” Palanca said.

“We went through two rounds of compressions and a total of six breaths,” Zurga said.

Then came a cough and a quick gurgle of water.

“I wanted to cry so bad, but I didn’t,” Palanca said of the revival. “It was awesome.”

“Patient was breathing but barely conscious,” said Fire Capt. Michael Cossey’s report. Oxygen was administered, and by the time an ambulance from MEMS arrived, the child “was talking” and taken to Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

“When we were dispatched for an unresponsive child at the pool,” Cossey said, “we were expecting the absolute worst. So we were all excited by the outcome and give credit for that to the quick actions of the aquatic center staff.”

Zurga is back at work and waiting on his freshman year at the University of Arkansas to start.

Palanca, who was reached by phone, is on a summer vacation in Reno, Nev., and will be a junior this fall. She is on the volleyball team and plans to play soccer.

Both said they’d like to work at the pool next summer.

Mayor Mike Watson said the city plans to honor the two lifeguards at the next City Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 5, and details were still being worked out.

This story was first published on our website and has been updated.

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