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Stay Afloat This Summer With These Water Safety Tips

( – Temperatures are rising, schools are almost out and pools are starting to open their gates. Summer is almost upon us and that means weekly trips to the local watering hole to cool off and have fun in the heat. While pools and other bodies of water provide many benefits for exercise and recreation, it is very important that proper safety is practiced when around water.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1-4 and an average of 3,533 people died annually between 2004-2009 from unintentional, non-boating-related, drowning. A study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that 48% of drowning-related injuries occurred at residential addresses.

A person can drown in mere inches of water; just enough water to cover the mouth and nose. Many times when a drowning or near-drowning occurs, the victim is unable to call for help and they silently slip beneath the surface. A child can become completely submerged within 10 seconds, the time it may take to walk to the other side of the pool to retrieve a towel. Within 30 seconds a drowning victim will begin to lose consciousness; by 2 minutes of being submerged without oxygen, brain damage will start to occur, causing irreversible damage and death will soon follow. If a child does not know how to swim, they should never be left in or around water without an adult that can swim.

This summer will be my fifth working as a lifeguard. I have watched countless times as a child has held onto the edge of the pool deck and shimmied along only to suddenly lose his or her grip and suddenly slip into water over their head. Last year I was at a pool facility while off-duty and noticed something that looked wrong with a child who was submerged barely six inches from the side of the pool in the shallow end. I had been having a conversation with a friend, who was also an off-duty lifeguard, but had been scanning the water as a habit in between talking. I was near a lifeguard working at the facility, and I pointed out the child. The lifeguard responded that the child was fine, and had just been holding on to the edge a few seconds ago. My friend walked over to check on the child, and pulled her semi-conscious body out of the pool as water spilled from her mouth. Miraculously, without any medical assistance, the girl started to cough up water and began to breathe on her own as her mother ran over from only a few feet away. A video of the facility at the time of the incident showed that the child had slipped away from the wall and became fully submerged for one minute and 45 seconds before being pulled out of the water by my friend. All of this occurred with other guests throughout the facility, and some guests were within a couple of feet of where the girl was drowning without them having any idea of what was going on. Stories like this do not usually have a happy ending. If your child cannot swim, they need to be within arm’s reach of you at all times! If you are at a water facility by yourself, be aware of other guests around you; if you notice something not right tell a lifeguard or see if the person needs help.

If you have a pool at your home, put up fencing at least 4 feet high around the entire perimeter and have gates that cannot be opened by younger children. Gates need to be self-closing, self-latching and outward-opening. For added safety, add an alarm to the pool gate so that it can be heard if a child is able to open the gate while an adult is not present. If your child will be going to a friend’s or relative’s home that has a pool, check to see if their pool will be a safe environment for your child.

Never use a pool toy, such as a “noodle” or inflatable inner-tube, as a substitute for a life jacket. If you or someone you know needs a floatation device to stay afloat, check to see that it is U.S. Coast Guard approved. “Water wings” and other devices that simply slide on are not an adequate means of keeping yourself or your child afloat. The CDC reported that in 2010, 88% of victims that died from boating accidents were not wearing life jackets.

You should always use the “buddy system” when spending time in water. Although certain age groups are more at risk for drowning-related deaths, anyone can experience a medical emergency while in the water and it is always advised to have someone with you at all times.

Never enter moving water if you are not a strong swimmer, or if you are alone. Water currents can be extremely strong, even if the water is shallow. Objects can also shift with the current, and swimmers can become injured on underwater obstacles.

Do not enter water after drinking alcohol. Up to 70% of adolescent and adult deaths with water recreation occur when alcohol is involved, according to a report by the CDC. Splashing water on your face will not change your sobriety level, the alcohol is in your blood stream and superficial stimulation will not alter your blood alcohol content.

Avoid playing games in water that involve repeatedly holding your breath for extended periods of time. Hyperventilating before submerging in water can lead to a swimmer becoming unconscious while underwater. If you notice someone playing underwater and have not seen them come to the surface for air for an extended length of time, check to see if they are okay.

Learning CPR can save lives, as every minute counts in a drowning emergency; you will be able to circulate oxygen throughout the victim’s body before EMS arrive on the scene. Many agencies offer CPR classes for community members to take part in, and upon passing the class, you receive a certification that you can use in other areas of life that are away from the pool deck.

If you or your children do not know how to swim, sign up for swimming lessons. Most community pools offer swim lessons by certified instructors for a small fee. Even if you don’t have a pool at home or don’t plan on spending time around water, knowing how to swim is a vital skill that can save your life.

(Editor’s note: the following list was compiled by talking with several lifeguards from unnamed agencies. It is intended to be humorous, exaggerated and downright silly, while still offering serious advice.)

Top 10 things your neighborhood lifeguard won’t tell you:

  1. Welcome to our ool; please keep the “P” out of it: The water in the pool gets filtered, and treated with chemicals, but we don’t add new water very often. When you decide to test out the myth of our pool having “urine dye”, you just added to the liquid that gets cycled back into the pool for tomorrow’s guests. It may seem like a huge amount of water, but when you have hundreds of people using it as a giant toilet every day, the water-to-pee ratio can get disgustingly high. If your child is being responsible and asking you to take them out of the water to use the restroom, don’t tell them to be quit and just go in the water. I will stare at you and let you know I heard.
  2. You run, I watch in hopes you fall: If you or your child are dodging deck chairs and pool toys like a Heisman-winning running back, all while ignoring my play-stopping whistle, I will be secretly hoping that you will get tackled by a slippery area on the pool deck for a loss of yards.
  3. Coconut oil, sand, mud and dead skin; my favorite!: While some people confuse our pool with a giant bathtub, this swim session doesn’t count as your monthly bath. Use our locker room to shower off first, or use the outdoor shower located by the pool to rinse off the grim before jumping in.
  4. Not a bathing suit: I have a great eye for picking out what is and is not proper swimwear, and I will make you get out of the water if you try to get in before I talk to you. Don’t tell me that your snowboarding pants are swim attire because you found them on the wrong rack at the sports store. I have heard every excuse and I no longer care. I’ve had people tell me they were from across the country and there was nothing they could do about their clothes. You’re telling me you planned a cross-nation trip to the West Coast with your entire family and didn’t think about packing swim suits? They left and came back a few minutes later, saying that they had misplaced their khakis. I attempted to locate the lost tan pants until the mother said “found them”, and held up the key to their vehicle.
  5. Stairs or flop: If you plan on entering the water any other way except for calmly walking down the stairs, I will be hoping for a belly flop. Accidental or on purpose, my shift will be significantly better if you slam front side first into the water. The best is when a promising dive turns into a smack-down that could have headlined WrestleMania 3,000. If I think I can bribe or convince you, regardless of age, to belly flop on purpose, I will do everything in my power to make that happen.
  6. Not the mouth!: As tempting as it may be to fill your mouth with water and unleash a blast of it at that special someone’s face, you DO NOT want this water in your mouth! Refer to numbers one and three.
  7. We’ve got some floaters: If we close the pool due to fecal matter or vomit in the water, don’t argue with us about it. Do you really want to rush back into that water as fast as possible? We have to scoop out as much as we can, and then chemically treat the entire pool, a process that can take up to 24 hours depending on the severity. Let us finish tidying up before you ask to swim in a septic tank.
  8. Please don’t show up: If you, your friends you bring, or your kids are constantly misbehaving and making my life harder, I will dread every time I see your car when I show up to work. We have rules for a reason, and just because you come every day does not mean that the rules don’t apply to you. If anything, you should know the rules better than anyone and be encouraging others to follow along. The rules keep everyone safe and create an environment that people will enjoy being at, so please stop giving a war cry before doing a flying McTwistFliponator over the elderly lady peacefully floating in the corner.
  9. Marco Polo is from the devil: Everyone likes to get a good group of people together for their favorite game. Unless it’s Marco Polo. No one likes this. If it’s your favorite, it’s time for a new favorite. Let me tell you a little secret, everyone cheats. Every time you duck under the water to escape the person who is “it”, that person opens their eyes or squints just enough to see what direction you headed. No, little Jimmy doesn’t have telepathic sonar to know where you are every time, he’s looking and I see it happen over and over. The reverse of that is when you find the one person who doesn’t peek, and then people don’t say “Polo” so “it” man can’t find you. Another thing that people don’t enjoy is dozens of tiny voices repeatedly screeching the same two words in a din that soon resembles monkeys on a seesaw.
  10. Please call me RoboGuard, and no, I’m not here to babysit: While some of us may be young, and you might have seen some lifeguards set bad examples, many of us are highly qualified individuals who take our jobs extremely seriously. Many of us have advanced medical training beyond what is covered to become a lifeguard. We have EMTs and paramedics on staff, and we have stopped people from drowning. Please respect our authority and don’t talk down to us. We can and will kick you out of the facility, and may even fine you depending on facility policy. Even if we don’t like the rules, we still have to enforce them, and don’t expect a free pass just because you are a good swimmer. If you come up to talk with me and I don’t make eye contact while you speak, I am listening but I am always watching the water. Although you may see lifeguards on duty, we are here for emergencies. We aren’t babysitters for your children, and with dozens of guests under my gaze, I need you to stay with your children at all times. If you think you can go read a book or watch a movie on your laptop while glancing at the water once an hour to locate your offspring, you are wrong. You need to be actively supervising your child whenever they are in or near the water. If you know they can’t swim, please get them a USCG approved life jacket. If I am getting ready to enter the water to save your child who is clawing at the surface to stay breathing, please don’t tell me how they are a great swimmer and will be fine. I might have a serious face on, but that is only because I feel responsible for every guest who is in my pool. Sorry if I look mean, I really do want everyone to have a good time, but safety comes first. Looks like someone needs help, got to go!

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