SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Take bull by horns with water safety


I have a memory of happily jumping into the deep end of a pool when I was 5 years old ... and then not being so happy as I started sinking quickly toward the bottom.

A strong hand grabbed me and pulled me up to the surface and I remember coming up out of the water staring directly into the smiling face of my father.

I'm sure he must have warned me about the dangers of water many times before, but I recall listening to him just a little more seriously after that.

Today, as summer and warmer weather approach us in the Walla Walla Valley, access to the many pools, lakes, and waterways in our area translate into more opportunities for recreation and fun.

It also means much more risk of injury and drowning for anyone not familiar with basic water safety.

Anyone who does a quick search on water safety will soon find there is an overwhelming amount of information on how to prevent and treat injuries in and around the water.

Contrary to the Hollywood image of lifeguards repeatedly making dramatic rescues to save helpless victims struggling in the water, a large part of what real lifeguards do includes the one thing that can avoid a dramatic rescue altogether: prevention -- trying to make sure emergencies don't happen in the first place.

While not all emergencies can be prevented, anyone can put easy-to-remember principles into action and keep their friends and families safe in and around the water.

Here are some quick tips from "5 Truths About Children Who Drown" on the website:

Weak or no supervision

Children drown quickly and silently -- in a matter of seconds. Adults who were present when a child drowns were often distracted in some way, by talking on the phone, chatting with other adults around the pool or reading.

What you can do about it:

Actively supervise your children around water, and have a phone nearby to call for help in an emergency.

When there are several adults present and children are swimming, designate an adult as the Water Watcher to prevent gaps in supervision.

No barriers

Curious children, especially those younger than 4 years old, can easily find and fall in to bodies of water like pools, tubs and buckets. Often they are discovered too late to save.

What you can do about it:

Never leave a child alone when in or near a body of water -- even if it's less than a few inches.

For pool owners, make sure your pool has four-sided fencing and a self-closing, self-latching gate.

Hot tubs should be covered and locked when not in use.

Weak or no CPR skills

Drowning victims who are rescued from the water need CPR immediately -- before the paramedics arrive. It can prevent brain damage and be the difference between life and death.

What you can do about it:

Get certified.

There are plenty of CPR classes available to meet busy schedules.

Contact your local health department, hospital or visit their Web site to locate a local American Red Cross chapter that offers courses year-round.

Weak or no swimming ability

Children from non-swimming households are eight times more likely to be at-risk of drowning. Minority children have especially low rates of swimming ability and high rates of drowning.

What you can do about it:

Enroll your child in swimming lessons.

If you do not know how to swim either, enroll in a parent-child learn-to-swim class.

To find swimming lessons, contact your local parks and recreation department, an aquatics center or visit the YMCA Web site to find a YMCA near you.

Lack of life jacket use

Nearly 5,000 boating accidents occur each year in open waters (lakes, rivers and oceans) and more than 700 people drown. Of those who drown, nine out of 10 are not wearing a life jacket. Also, alcohol use is involved in up to one in five reported boating fatalities.

What you can do about it:

Have your child wear a life jacket every time you go boating or are on a dock.

Avoid or moderate your alcohol consumption when boating.

If you and your family boat frequently, consider taking a boating safety class through the U.S. Coast Guard.

You never know when you may find yourself in a position to help someone that has gotten into a very dangerous situation in or around water.

Trying to prepare yourself as much as you can in advance may mean the difference between life and death. It's best to prevent emergencies from happening in the first place ... but if you can't prevent them, then be prepared.

I'm glad my dad was ... thanks for watching out for me, Dad!

JR Loe is the aquatics director for the Walla Walla YMCA.


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