Officials urge residents to practice water safety this summer
by Elsie Hodnett
While spending time on the lake or in the pool is a great way to enjoy the summer weather, it is important to remember water safety rules.

“We had a mostly uneventful Memorial Day weekend,” said Alabama Marine Police Sgt. Kim Moeller. “I want to especially thank everyone for using a designated driver while boating. That, more than anything, kept me from having to work accidents this weekend.”

Moeller said last year there were three drownings on Logan Martin Lake, five drownings on Weiss Lake and the officer on Lay Lake worked four drownings.

“It was a bad year,” she said. “I speak to people a lot about the need for life vests on boats, but I think anytime a child is around the water—on the bank, docks or piers—they should wear a life vest.”

Moeller said people need to be aware of dangers in unfamiliar water.

“If you cannot see the bottom, do not just jump into the water,” she said. “Logs, rocks, sinkholes, even soft mud can snag a swimmer and hold them under. One of the biggest contributors to drowning deaths is ‘overconfidence.’ When you get tired running, you can stop and rest. If you get tired while swimming, you can’t just stop.”

Pell City Police Chief Greg Turley said with beautiful weather and the boating season in full swing, the police department wants to remind everyone about the importance of water safety.

“We had three drownings on our lake last year, and our goal is to have zero drownings this year,” he said. “We aren’t life guards, we are a police department, so I researched the experts—the U.S. Coast Guard and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. When we have a drowning, even if it is in a pool, we contact the state marine police, who send the information to the U.S. Coast Guard, who then send data to the CDC. The CDC looks at the big picture and tracks it on a national trend to try to find how to prevent drownings.”

Turley said water safety education is a big part of that effort.

“No one thinks of these things until it happens to them or to someone they know,” he said. “We want to get the information out so people will take the proper precautions and have a safe and fun summer.”

Turley said one thing the Pell City Police Marine Unit sees a lot is people on the water without life jackets.

“They say it’s too hot to wear a life jacket,” he said. “If we have a boat with five people and ask to see life jackets for each one, sometimes it takes quite a bit of digging to locate those life jackets. You increase your chances of survival by 50 percent by wearing a proper-fitting, serviceable life jacket. When you have an accident is no time to try to locate your life jacket and put it on.”

Turley said every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning.

“Of these, two are children age 14 or younger,” he said. “Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional death in the United states.”

Turley said statistics from the CDC and U.S. Coast Guard include:

• From 2005-2009, there was an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States—about 10 deaths per day. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.

• About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

• More than 50 percent of drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization or transfer for further care (compared with hospitalization rate of about six percent for all unintentional injuries). These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities and permanent loss of basic functioning (such as permanent vegetative state).

“Nearly 80 percent of people who die from drowning are male, and children ages 1-4 have the highest drowning rates,” Turley said. “In 2009, among children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, more than 30 percent died from drowning. Among children ages 1-4, most drownings occur in home swimming pools. Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages 1-4 than any other cause except congenital anomalies (birth defects). Among those children ages 1-4, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes.”

Turley said from 2005-2009, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African-Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity is widest among children 5-14 years old. The fatal drowning rate of African-American children ages 5-14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range.

“Factors such as access to swimming pools, the desire or lack of desire to learn how to swim and choosing water-related recreational activities may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates,” he said. “Available rates are based on population, not on participation. If rates could be determined by actual participation in water-related activities, the disparity in minorities’ drowning rates compared to whites would be much greater.”

Turley said the main factors that affect drowning risk are lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, location and failure to wear life jackets, alcohol use and seizure disorders.

“The Pell City Marine Police will provide a free boat decal to boaters who pass the unit’s free boat inspection,” Turley said. “You can request this free inspection by calling the department at 205-884-3334 or emailing boandrews@epell.net. This is a great way to make sure that you and your vessel are ready for the season. The inspection is free and non-punitive (meaning that the inspection is a positive opportunity with no official action). The decal boasts the unit’s new Special Operations Unit patch and serves as a sign that you are proudly ready to have a safe and enjoyable summer on Logan Martin Lake.”

Contact Elsie Hodnett at ehodnett@dailyhome.com.

© 2013