By: Taniesa L. Sullivan
The recent closure of a Great Escapes RV Resorts waterpark in Leesburg, Alabama, Pirate’s Bay, due to employees walking out and striking over former waterpark manager, Shane Jenkin's termination and the safety issues at the waterpark, have raised a lot of concerns over the last few days.
We were able to speak with Cherolyn Chiang, Director of Marketing, at Great Escapes RV Resorts/ The Jenkins Organization in Houston, Texas on Wednesday about the safety concerns at Pirate’s Bay Waterpark.
The Weekly Ledger began with questions that came to us from very concerned parents, grandparents and area citizens. We asked Chiang, "Can you tell our readers what the maximum capacity is for the facility?" Chiang said, “That is not in my knowledge, I do not know what the max capacity is, that is beyond my curfew. But I can say we will follow whatever that guideline is, and we will not exceed whatever the state fire marshal’s guidelines are.”
We continued with, "How does Pirate’s Bay plan on making sure they keep the crowd of swimmers under maximum capacity when they are selling tickets online and at the door?" Chiang said, “The ticketing system does have a set max allotted tickets that it is allowed to sell.”
Chiang's answer made us question how can a ticketing system have a max allotted ticket allowance when the maximum capacity for the previous year was said to have been around 800 people? This year, the facility seems to not know the maximum capacity number of people the facility will hold and last weekend there were around 2,000 tickets sold at the waterpark in one day.
The Weekly Ledger then asked Chiang, Can you answer why there has been only three or four certified lifeguards for the whole Pirate’s Bay Waterpark facility on duty and how is Pirate’s Bay resolving this issue? Chiang said, “Our lifeguard attendance will vary day by day and attraction by attraction and we have and always will follow all national accepted policies and procedures for lifeguards.”
We then asked Chiang what will the lifeguard/ attendee ratio be? Chiang said, “There is not an accepted lifeguard/ attendee ratio, it will vary by attraction and day to day.”
We then followed up by stating "The Aquatic's Best Practices states: In swimmer supervision ratios of lifeguards to swimmers it is supposed to be a minimum of one lifeguard to every 25 swimmers, so is Pirate’s Bay and Great Escapes RV Resorts not going to adhere to those practices? Chiang replied, “I am not familiar with the aquatic practices. That is our director of aquatics responsibilities, and I am the director of marketing.”
Another concern that came to The Weekly Ledger was about the staff and lifeguards having staff shirts so that park attendees can distinguish staff and lifeguards from the park attendees. We asked Chiang about that concern and she told The Weekly Ledger, “Those shirts had been ordered and had been ordered prior to the publishing of the first article.”
Chiang's response to our question, "Does Pirate’s Bay have a safety plan in place in case of an emergency?" was, “Yes”.
By the time our next question was asked, "Does the facility have an AED on site in case of an emergency?", we were expecting a vague answer and Chiang did not surprise us with “We follow all national accepted policies and procedures.”
We continued with direct questions that we and others wanted answered, "Were there enough walkie talkies or whistles for all the staff and lifeguards before you closed?" and "What plans do you have to ensure all staff and lifeguards will have a walkie talkie going forward for issues like the past weekend when a child was lost and it took a while for their parents to be found, as well as other safety issues that might arise?" Chiang said, “We have walkie talkies for all our lifeguards and we have a back-up set if any walkie talkies are damaged.”
We then asked, "How quickly can help be called if only lifeguards have a walkie talkie, and you have an issue, and no other staff has a walkie talkie?" Chiang said, “All lifeguards will have a walkie talkie, and it will be as quickly as they can.” Which then led to our next question about there not being enough whistles for the staff and if they saw that as a safety concern? Chiang said, “All staff will have a whistle going forward.”
We asked Chiang about the open containers of alcohol that had been seen on the waterpark premises and why were they allowed since their rule states that no outside food or drinks (other than bottled water for baby formula) can be brought in to the park?" Chiang stated, “We have a zero tolerance for alcohol on our premises and if anyone violates that they will be escorted off the premises.”
We then asked Chiang about the issues that was supposed to have been resolved before the waterpark opened back up this season from where the state fire marshal’s office had came out for inspection in the 2021 season and cited Pirate’s Bay with a few infractions that needed to be resolved such as there not being any safety plans posted throughout the facility, there was no max capacity posted throughout the facility, nor was there max capacity posted in any of the rooms at the park, the party room was not wheelchair accessible, nor did the rooms have exit doors in case of a fire or an emergency, and the AED on-site was expired. Chiang said, “I spoke with our COO, Troy Sheppard, and he is in direct connection with the fire marshal and is working with local engineers to resolve those issues now.”
We then asked about the staff employees that went on strike due to them standing up for the former waterpark manager that was terminated, Shane Jenkins, and for the safety issues at the park and then them being fired by the new general managers along with being banned from the park and having police reports taken on them. Chiang said, “We have spoken with every single teammate yesterday and to my knowledge every single one of them is coming back to work.”
The Weekly Ledger then asked about the termination of former waterpark manager, Shane Jenkins, about how he was terminated after going to his higher ups because of these safety issues at the waterpark and how Great Escape RV Resort/ The Jenkins Organization was going to resolve this issue and any future issues that might arise if anyone else comes to them voicing concerns about issues in the future? Chiang said, “That is a private matter, and I will not speak on that.”
The Weekly Ledger also spoke with an employee at Pirate’s Bay, Zoie Mckiven, about a meeting the Great Escapes RV Resorts/ The Jenkins Organization corporate heads, and former owners, Tim and Vicki Bell, had with the employees on Tuesday when they were trying to get the waterpark back opened up by Thursday. The Weekly Ledger asked Mckiven about some of the same safety concerns that we had spoke with Cherolyn Chiang about that had been brought to our attention such as the max capacity issues, the lack of postings of the max capacities throughout the facility, number of lifeguards and issues such as no staff shirts, whistles, walkie talkies, or card readers. Mckiven said, “We had a meeting Tuesday with people from our corporate office Great Escapes RV Resorts/ The Jenkins Organization; Troy Sheppard the Chief Operating Officer, Jacob Holland the District Manager, Joey Baumer the Director of Aquatics and our former owner Tim and Vicki Bell which has come back until Friday and is also helping to get everything we need to get back up and going. As for the card readers, Jacob Holland said since we are now owned by Great Escapes those will have to come from them in Texas and he will be getting on that now for us. Tim and Vicki are going to be handling the ordering of our staff shirts and whistles but for now there are some old Pirate’s Bay t-shirts in the storage room that the staff is going to cut the arms off of and use for now. They have given us all our jobs back and we will be reopening Thursday and we will be doing our lifeguard training with Joey Baumer, there will be nine of us doing the lifeguard training. So, there will be nine that are training, plus the two that was already certified and hopefully two more that was already certified, if they decide to come back after they come back from the beach. So, for now we have most of everything we need. Tim and Vicki had only come back out of the kindness of their heart and their love for this community because they believe this community deserves this waterpark. Vicki also told us in the meeting they were going to go to Lowes and get our walkie talkies for us. But we will just have to improvise for now, but will be open tomorrow, weather permitting."
Alabama is one of six states that does not regulate waterparks and theme parks. The industry is largely self-policed in this state. It is up to the facility and owners to make sure these parks are safe for our children and safety at any waterpark or theme park should be that business's highest priority.
No figures are available for overall waterpark injures, but American Red Cross cited US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates when it launched updated training efforts in 2015 for lifeguards who work at waterparks. Those showed more than 4,200 people per year are taken to emergency rooms to be treated for scrapes, concussions, broken limbs, spinal injuries, and other such injuries suffered on waterslides and in pools. Those numbers do not include other waterpark injuries or those who need lifeguard assistance without hospital trips. Drownings also occur which does not count for those numbers.