The Mountain News received this press release about summer safety from the Washington State Department of Health today, and two facts jumped out that make this compelling information.
First, twenty kids drowned in our state last month. I consider that a powerful tragedy.
Secondly, there are 120 stations statewide at public swimming facilities that loan life jackets to kids and families. For those youth that don’t know how to swim, this is a good way to get in the action.
Along those lines, I’ve included a piece I wrote for the Eatonville Dispatch several summers ago about the life jacket loaning program at Spanaway Lake Park, and it gives more detail about this innovative program. Although the piece was written in 2008, its analysis of the hazards created by a cold, wet spring is even more true this summer than it was a few years ago.
More than 120 life jacket loan stations in Washington help avoid tragedy and keep summer fun
OLYMPIA: High winter snow pack and a cold, wet spring have left many of Washington’s waters very cold and rivers flowing fast even though it’s mid-summer. This creates dangerous conditions when the long-awaited sun brings people to the water.
“Just last month 20 people in our state lost their lives to drowning,” says Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “Preventing a drowning tragedy starts by making sure that everyone playing, swimming, or boating in or near the water is wearing a life jacket – period, no exceptions.”
In Washington there are more than 120 life jacket loaner stations where water-users can borrow a life jacket for the day. At the end of the day, people return them to the station. Local Safe Kids Coalitions, Fire and EMS agencies, hospitals, parks departments, and private marinas sponsor the loan programs.
Drowning is the second leading cause of injury death for children and teens. Most drowning deaths in Washington State happen in open water ─ lakes, rivers, salt water, and ponds.
There are some simple things you can do to reduce the drowning risk for you and your family:
– In our state, children under 13 years of age, while on boats less than 19 feet long, are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that fits properly. Parents are strong role models –children and teens are more likely to wear a life jacket when parents wear them, too.
– When swimming in the ocean orPuget Sound, beware of tidal changes and currents. These are powerful, unseen flows in salt water; undertows and tidal changes that can sweep people off their feet and out to sea. If you want to play in the surf, wear a life jacket; know the tide table, and follow warning signs. If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim into shore.
Here are some other tips for water safety:
-Supervise children when in or near the water. Stay within designated swimming areas. Swim where lifeguards are present. Be aware of water temperatures. Many rivers and lakes stay cold all summer; even if they get warm on the surface, they’re cold below. Cold water makes it harder to swim, especially when someone is tired. Know your limits and your ability; stop before you are too tired. Check weather forecasts and be prepared for bad weather. Water and weather conditions can change quickly. Set limits with your children ─ when they can go in the water, where they can go, who has to be there to watch them, and what safety gear they must use.
An online list provides information of Washington State Life Jacket Loaner Program locations: www.boatus.com/foundation/LJLP/usamapb.asp .
Drowning prevention information is available on the Department of Health website: www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/wr/watersafety.htm .
For more information: www.doh.wa.gov, or, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
DOH Contact: Julie Graham Communications Office: 360-236-4022
Life Jacket Loan Program at Spanaway Lake
by Bruce A. Smith
Safe Kids Worldwide, an international non-profit organization dedicated to preventing childhood injuries, has developed a chapter in Pierce County and has developed life jacket loan stations at Spanaway Lake Park and at other locations in PierceCounty.
Spearheaded by Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Safe Kids Pierce County has partnered with nearly a dozen community organizations, from law enforcement and fire departments to parks and recreation agencies, to offer free or low-cost safety gear. The goal is to let kids have fun but avoid some of the injuries that claim the lives of 1 million children each year world-wide.
One of the first visible signs of the Safe Kids presence in our community is the recently established Life Jacket Loaner Program at Spanaway Lake Park. A similar program is available at the county beach on Lake Tapps.
“Cold water drowning is a serious problem in Washington State,” said Central Pierce Fire Chief Jack Andren, one of the many dignitaries on hand for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at Spanaway Lake.
Severely cold water, common in spring and early summer, can cause hypothermia. When the body gets too cold internally, the muscles cease to function properly and an individual is unable to think clearly. Safe Kids officials say that an able-bodied person, even a fit teenager, can drown within three minutes due to hypothermia. As a result, they are concerned because this spring’s abnormally cold weather has kept water temperatures at levels usually seen in May.
Twenty life jackets are available at Spanaway Lake, housed by the main swimming beach in a little red shed built by Whit Baker’s wood-working class at Spanaway Lake High School with materials donated by Home Depot. They are available to the public free of charge to use during their time on Spanaway Lake swimming, boating or canoeing. The program is based strictly on an honor system, yet Safe Kids Worldwide reports that more life jackets end up in their little sheds than are lost or stolen.
“Families have some life jackets that their kids have out-grown, so they drop them off,” says Stephanie Glass, Public Education Coordinator for Central Pierce Fire and Rescue. “We accept donations, definitely.
In addition, Safe Kids is selling life jackets and other safety gear at a reduced cost. Life jackets are $14, while bike helmets range from $7-15, with the high end helmets being suitable for skateboarding and skiing.
“We’re all about keeping kids safe while they’re having fun,” said Kathy Kravit-Smith, Director of Pierce County Parks and Recreation.
As a tribute to the need for the loaner program, David Gallegos, a father who came to the lake with his daughter Mya for a day of fishing, asked to borrow a life jacket before the dignitaries had finished speaking. Apparently, his little girl’s life jacket wasn’t in their motorboat and he wanted to be sure, “just in case…”
To buy a low-cost helmet or life jacket, or to find out about free workshops on kids safety, contact Laura Miccile, Safe Kids Coordinator at Mary Bridge Hospital, (253) 403-7911, or Stephanie Glass, CPF&R, (253) 548-6494.
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