DA brings water safety message to Wakefield

25Jun16

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By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — With Lake Quannapowitt as the backdrop, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan stood shoulder to shoulder with a host of local officials yesterday to convey a life-saving message about water safety this summer.

And to hammer the point home, the Wakefield Fire Department conducted a simulated drowning rescue, swimming far out into the Lake to save a “victim” and deliver her to waiting Action Ambulance EMTs.

Ryan noted that in Middlesex County there are 136 lakes and ponds and 22 rivers.

sullivan_smith_ryan“They offer many opportunities for recreational activity,” Ryan observed, “but all too often that fun turns to tragedy in accidents that could have and should have been avoided.”

Ryan cited a Centers for Disease Control report that from 2005 to the present, 10 people died every single day in swimming or some other water-related incidents (not including boating). Of those, she said, 5,000 were children.

“This is what we’re trying to avoid as we go into the summer,” she said.

She said that the answers to two simple questions would make most drownings preventable:

Is there a lifeguard on duty?
Am I allowed to swim here?

Ryan advised parents to never let their children swim alone and to actively supervise kids while they are in the water. She reminded parented that children can drown in as little as two inches of water and it can occur within 20 seconds.

drowning_rescue5“Even adults and very experienced swimmers can get in the water and have a problem,” she cautioned. “Don’t be in there alone.”

Ryan recommended that supervising adults know first aid and CPR and encouraged parents to get their kids into swimming classes. She noted that most communities’ YMCAs offer free or low-cost swimming lessons. In this area, she noted, the Boys & Girls Club of Stoneham & Wakefield offers swimming classes for kids.

Captain Mary Walker of the Massachusetts Environmental Police spoke about boating safety and stressed the importance of life jackets.

She said that there were five boating fatalities in 2015 and four so far this year. All were from falls overboard, she said, and none were wearing life jackets.

drowning_rescue2“It takes a mere moment to put a life jacket on,” Walker said, “but it can make an entire lifetime of difference.”

Walker also talked about drinking and boating. She warned that being convicted of operating a boat under the influence of liquor can result in the loss of your motor vehicle driver’s license.

Wakefield Police Chief Rick Smith talked about drowning hazards around the home.

“It’s critical that homeowners and parents recognize that garden and landscaping features are drowning hazards, too, such as koi ponds, fountains, waterfalls, water bowls and other similar property features,” Smith said. “These features are particularly dangerous for toddlers.”

He also warned of the need to empty plastic kiddie pools and other water receptacles like buckets when not in use.

“Simply put, never leave a child unsupervised for any period of time, and never turn your back on them for even a moment,” Smith stressed, “no matter how little water is in a pool or a water table.”

“Being a responsible property owner and a responsible parent the best form of prevention,” Smith said.

Michael Woronka, CEO of Action Ambulance, pointed out that 90 percent of drownings happen in fresh water settings, as people have a false sense of safety and comfort in fresh water.

drowning_rescue3He stressed the importance of beginning CPR as soon as possible on a drowning victim and continuing until the arrival of emergency medical services. He talked about the importance of knowing your exact location so that you can provide that information when calling 911.

Wakefield Fire Chief Michael Sullivan talked about the signs of drowning. He stressed that a drown person may not appear to be in distress because he cannot call for help or wave his arms because all his effort is directed to staying above water.

“Sometimes the most important indicator is that the person may not look like they are drowning,” Sullivan said. “In all, the struggle lasts for only 20 to 60 seconds before the person submerges under water.”

Sullivan also reminded parents that kids playing in the water make noise.

“You need to be concerned when they get quiet,” he said.

Adam Rodgers, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Stoneham & Wakefield called it “incredibly important” for kids to at least get some basic swimming instruction.

“Studies show that even two or three classes can make a huge difference in a child’s ability to keep their head above water,” Rodgers said. He reiterated that the local Boys & Girls club offers swimming lessons.

He stressed that the region has lots of places to swim that are staffed by lifeguards.

“Don’t swim in places that don’t have lifeguards, Rodgers advised.

Wakefield firefighters performed a simulated rescue, with two firefighters tethered to lines swimming out to a “victim” in the Lake. Once they secured the victim, four firefighters on shore rapidly pulled the lines in and the victim was placed on a stretcher and loaded into a waiting ambulance.

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District Attorney Ryan had some final words of advice for the summer season.

“By being responsible and vigilant about the water we can get to the end of the summer with people being safe and having a wonderful summer, rather than some type of tragedy,” she said.

[This story originally appeared in the June 23, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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