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Widow of man who drowned in Fort McMurray pool sues operator

A lawsuit filed for the drowning of an Albertan in a public pool highlights potentially dangerous apnea exercises and the responsibility of facility operators to supervise customers who perform them.

A statement filed by Dumitru Serbulenco’s family earlier this year says that on December 12, 2020, he was performing repetitive apnea exercises at the Suncor Community Recreation Center in Fort McMurray, Alberta, and asked lifeguards to watch him. .

After being unconscious for six minutes, rescuers rescued the 34-year-old and administered CPR, the statement filed in February said. Serbulenco was taken to Northern Lights Hospital and died six days later.

His three-year-old daughter, Zinovia, was with him at the pool that day. The family’s attorney said Serbulenco was a stay-at-home dad at the time.

The family is suing the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo and four staff members, alleging they failed to properly watch and rescue him.

The statement says the pool operators have not developed a policy regarding repetitive apnea exercises, citing Alberta’s public swimming pool regulations.

“No family should have to suffer such an avoidable loss,” Elena Serbulenco, his wife, said in a written statement provided by his lawyer.

“His pride in fatherhood and marriage was extraordinary.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court. The defendants deny all the allegations and contest the manner in which Dumitru Serbulenco died.

Defendants assert “that they met and exceeded such duty of care at all relevant times,” the defense states.

Neither the lawsuit nor the family statement explained why Dumitru Serbulenco practiced the freediving exercises, but freedivers often use them as training to venture deep underwater without breathing apparatus.

The Lifesaving Society Alberta Public Pool Safety Standards recommends that all public aquatic facilities develop a policy to restrict repetitive snorkeling activities.

“Repetitive apnea, prolonged apnea and prolonged underwater swimming are not permitted by the general pool user,” the company said.

National and Alberta standards state that repetitive apnea may be permitted in public pools, but must be under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor or trainer.

Jonathan Kusyanto, acting executive director of the Lifesaving Society’s Alberta and Northwest Territories branch, said the society provides guidelines but has no legislative authority.

“The standards are ultimately there to help support and educate pool owners and operators on what they can do to operate their facility safely,” Kusyanto said. “But these are ultimately recommendations.”

Alberta’s Public Swimming Pool Regulations state that “owners shall develop and maintain written policies and implement plans for such policies in accordance with pool standards”, which includes the safety and supervision of all clients.

In an email, the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo declined to comment given the legal process.

“The RRC has cooperated fully with the investigation of this incident,” a spokesperson said.

The drowning also led to a criminal case against a man who was working as a lifeguard at the time. In October, the RCMP charged Ruslan Atantayev, 25, with criminal negligence causing death.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 23, 2022.

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