We all have a role to play in preventing drownings

By Phil Hansen, CEO, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently reported that the number of drownings across the state has nearly hit a 10-year high.  Each loss of life I hear about hits home. Years ago, I was motivated to join the Red Cross after witnessing a terrible tragedy, like the ones we’ve seen this summer.

As a young man I was involved with a team of rescuers in a search for two young boys who were lost in a river near the camp where I worked. As one boy entered the deep and fast-moving water he had lost his footing and reached back for help, pulling the other boy into the water with him. While we searched the dark water, the mother of the boys stood on shore pleading with us to find them–sadly, neither survived.  I was to learn later that neither boy knew how to swim.

These drowning deaths were heartbreaking for all involved. Personally, I was so troubled by the event that I wanted to do something meaningful to help ensure the safety of children in and around the water – I became a water safety and CPR instructor for the Red Cross where I have continued to work ever since.

Summer is a beautiful time in Minnesota and we are fortunate to have access to pools, rivers and, of course, our 10,000+ lakes.  But the spate of recent drowning incidents has prompted many to ask how future downing tragedies can be prevented.  When it comes to water safety we all have a role to play in promoting and supporting water safety basics, such as never swimming alone, always swimming near a lifeguard, and making learning to swim a priority in our families. We know, and we teach, that multiple layers of protection make the difference when preventing water emergencies and responding to them when they happen.

Here are some ways you can make a difference:

  • Maintain constant supervision when watching children around water. Active supervision prevents water emergencies and saves lives.
  • Have children or inexperienced swimmers wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
  • If someone is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
  • Know how and when to call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
  • Enroll in CPR and First Aid courses to learn how to respond. Insist that babysitters, grandparents and others watching children around water know these lifesaving skills.
  • Know before you go—swim where you know it’s safe; walk carefully into open waters; do not dive.
  • Heed the warnings and instructions of lifeguards and other authorities as well as flags and signs.
  • Watch out for the dangerous “too’s”: too tired, too cold, too far from safety, and too much sun.

While the Minnesota summer is short and lovely, and should be enjoyed, there are both joys and hazards associated with recreation in and around water. We ask everyone to take on a role in water safety and to learn to respect the water.  No one is drown-proof, but together we can make our community a safer place to live, play and splash this summer.

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