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Water Safety

Adult supervision, paying attention, and life jackets are key in helping to prevent drowning. Photo by Oleksandr Canary Islands / Pexels Website.

Information for parents and families

Mary Beth Sallee

Managing Editor

Hart Co. News-Herald


Although summer break is quickly coming to an end for many families, that doesn’t mean that water safety is any less important throughout the remainder of the year.

In the United States, more children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause of death, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Drowning is also the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 5-14, second only after motor vehicle accidents.

Rusty Branstetter, the Assistant Chief for the Hart County Search and Rescue Squad, shared information about water safety, how to recognize drowning, and how to prevent it.

According to Branstetter, drowning can occur in a matter of seconds and doesn’t happen as it is portrayed in movies.

Drowning can even occur at a puddle as it only takes 1-inch of water and 30 seconds to drown. Photo by Olya Harytovich / Pexels Website.

“A drowning victim, you will never know that person is drowning until they are gone,” Branstetter said. “Instead of like your movies where they’re jumping up and down yelling for help, most of your drowning victims don’t do that. They’ll generally come up, you might hear them slapping the water a little bit, but then they’ll kind of bob up and then go back under water…A drowning victim, they’re not going to scream or yell because they’re worried about trying to breathe, but (by that time) they’ve already aspirated and inhaled water, so now the body is in a panic mode. They’re just worried about air, not trying to vocalize anything. It’s just the body’s reaction to try to sustain air.”

With that being said, Branstetter explained that the drowning of children often occurs when adults are not paying attention.

“With smaller children, they always need to be supervised,” Branstetter said. “If an adult has to step away from the poolside to go get something, they need to ask the kids to get out of the pool until they can be there to watch them…With the two (pool drownings) that I know of personally that’s happened here in Hart County within the last year to two years, the parents took their eyes off the kids for just a second, and that’s when tragedy happened. A lot of people are at gatherings and kids are swimming and jumping and playing, and parents are distracted with an adult conversation or catching up with friends, and they’ve got their back turned. You always, always have to watch them (children).”

In other drowning incidents that are not pool-related, Branstetter stated that in most of those cases, individuals never anticipated being in the water.

“With kayaking on the river, a lot of times people are inexperienced and find themselves in a situation that is more than their experience allows..They wind-up getting stuck on a downed tree, a log, or other obstacles that wind-up flipping them. Those obstacles we call strainers. They are a death trap.”

According to the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources website, Kentucky law requires that all vessels carry a life jacket for each person on board and that it fits properly. Children younger than 12-years-old must wear a life jacket at all times while in the open part of a boat that is underway.

However, Branstetter stated that it is best that everyone wear a life jacket at all times, no matter the age.

“You don’t know the unknown,” Branstetter explained. “…When you’re on the water, I know it’s not cool to wear a life jacket, but nobody mourns when you’re wearing a life jacket…Most accidents happen within 10 feet of the water’s edge or within 10 feet of being in the water…As a rule for the Rescue Squad, if any member is within a within 10 feet of the water or is on the water, we have a strict rule that you have to have a life jacket on. That’s for all our members.”

The best choice for a life jacket is one approved by the United States Coast Guard. It is important that a life jacket fit properly according to the the individual’s weight and size.

“To properly check if a life jacket is properly fitted, you will cinch it up to a comfortable level and then grab the shoulders of the life jacket and attempt to lift up,” Branstetter said. “If the life jacket slips off and goes above their head, the life jacket is improperly fitted or is too big for them.”

“We’re trying to be a little more proactive with the children on teaching them (to wear life jackets) because with the child, they’re not yet old enough to say it’s not cool to wear it,” he added. “At the same time, a child might be able to change an adult’s mind on wearing one.”

It doesn’t take a lake, river, or large pool for a child to drown.

It’s important to note that it doesn’t take a large pool or other body of water for a child or adult to drown. A child can drown in a kiddie-sized pool and even in a shallow bucket of water. A child can slip, fall, and become unconscious, landing in a small amount of water and drowning in areas like a puddle or bathtub.

“If the water is low enough that they can inhale water, they can still drown,” Branstetter said. “You can drown in a one-inch deep puddle.”

Parents should also be aware of what is known as dry drowning and secondary drowning. The phrase “dry drowning” refers to a series of delayed symptoms that a person may experience after a water-related incident or submersion injury. When a small amount of water enters the mouth or airways, it can cause a spasm or inflammation that constricts breathing. “Secondary drowning” happens if water gets into the lungs after a water-related incident. There, it can irritate the lungs’ lining and fluid can build up, causing a condition called pulmonary edema. Symptoms can be delayed up to hours after the water-related incident and may include trouble breathing, coughing, vomiting, chest pain, and fatigue.

“So with dry drowning, if anybody inhales water and they aspirate and you know they’ve inhaled water because you heard them choking and you got them back up and they got to breathing, your next worry is the dry land drowning, which can happen during the night or a few hours afterwards,” Branstetter explained. “It is where the body has inhaled water into the lungs that hasn’t been a sufficient amount to actually drown somebody, but whenever they relax hours later that water becomes an issue in the lungs and the lungs cannot get the water out.”

“That’s why we go with a rule that if somebody is thought to have inhaled water, you need to go to the hospital to get checked out,” Branstetter continued. “…Certain individuals are different. Like with myself, I’m a diver. I’ve inhaled water during some of my trainings, and I know it wasn’t a whole lot. But what’s not a whole lot of water for me could be a lot of water for another individual because they might have asthma or something else that has affected their body and their ability to breathe. It’s always better to get checked out by your physician or a doctor than it is to have that concern later throughout the night.”

Branstetter said that another cause of drowning that is preventable by adults is not trying to cross areas flooded by water.

“Turn around, don’t drown.” Branstetter said. “We see it all the time. Somebody has a truck and says it (a flooded area) is not that deep. But it don’t take much water to slow the truck and be in a situation that you didn’t wanna be in, so we always say turn around, don’t drown. Don’t go past the (warning) barriers.”

Although situations differ and nothing is certain, drowning can be prevented. Constant adult supervision, wearing a life jacket, and being aware of surroundings could make all the difference in the life of someone you love.

LIFE JACKET PHOTOS came from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources website.

Drowning is preventable. Constant adult supervision and wearing a life jacket can make all the difference in the life of a child. Photo by Peter Fazekas / Pexels Website.







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