Yosemite NP warning good worldwide: Watch out for running water

April 7, 2012

Our Scout Troop readies for two summer camp excursions this summer, and Kathryn and I hope to get out somewhere not drought stricken for at least a weekend.  Generally we tack on a whitewater river run on the Scout trips, if we can find a good one for reasonable price.  Safety instructions always include the solid order to wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) at all times.  We have a few adult leaders trained in Safety Afloat, and we work to have the Scouts up to “swimmer” or “lifesaver” ability for the trips.

It’s a good idea to review all the rules for safety near water in the great outdoors.

The good video crew at Yosemite National Park posted this dramatic video story — please watch, and heed the warnings.  Doesn’t matter how well you swim, if you get pinned underwater by a powerful flow — and they are all powerful — you’re in trouble.  This story has a happy ending with chastened hikers who learned uncharted short cuts may not be a good idea.  For nearly a score of people in Yosemite NP the turnout was not wonderful, in the last ten years.

In Texas, drownings take about a hundred lives a year, averaging 81 child drownings each year:  “An average of 81 children drowned each year since DFPS [Department of Family Protective Services] began tracking these deaths in 2005. DFPS identified 76 water fatalities in 2005, 70 in 2006, 63 in 2007, 82 in 2008, 113 in 2009 and 84 in 2010, and 79 in 2011 as of August 31, 2011.”  [If you can find figures including adult drownings, please let us know in the comments.]

Please watch, and pass along to anyone you know who will be hiking this year.

Text from the filmmakers:

Sixteen people died in Yosemite’s rivers and creeks between 2002 and 2011. Water in Yosemite is more dangerous than it looks, and stories like Matthew’s are a common occurrence.

Go outside, have great fun, see America.  Be careful when you do.


High rates of drowning: Why is there a racial disparity in drowning deaths?

August 16, 2010

Congress granted a national charter to the American Red Cross to perform emergency services, and to teach people to swim, to prevent drowning, as part of the disaster-readiness services of the organization originally founded in 1881.  Many of us got our first swim lessons under the direction of a Water Safety Instructor trained and certified by the Red Cross; some of us went on to get WSI certification to teach swimming and lifesaving.

But for some reasons, these drowning prevention measures are not working to save the lives of African Americans as well as for everybody else.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation carried a story about the problem in today’s edition (available on-line here, a 30-minute story):

Swimming Disparity
The drowning deaths of six black teens in Louisiana renewed questions about the long-standing disparity between those Americans who can swim and those who can’t. Neither the teens who drowned nor their families who watched from shore could swim.  According to the CDC the rate of fatal drowning is highest among African-American children ages 5-14 (three times that of white children in the same age range) due to a combination of social, economic and cultural issues. Neal Conan talks about what causes the dangerous disparity in swimming, and how to recognize and assist someone who’s drowning.

Drowning rates run even higher for Native Americans.

Race disparities in drownings in the U.S.; AP chart via NPR

Race disparities in drownings in the U.S.; AP chart via NPR

More than 30 people have died in drowning accidents already this year in Texas alone — victims of all races — after a terrible 2009 record.  About 3,500 people die in the U.S. from drowning every year.  Most of these accidental deaths could have been prevented with the use of personal flotation devices, and may have been preventable had the people involved had basic drownproofing, or swimming, or lifesaving instruction.

(Remember this mantra:  Reach; throw; row; go.  Only after attempts to reach for the victim, perhaps with a pole, or throw a flotation device, or row a boat, should anyone including a well-trained lifesaver, go into the water to retrieve someone drowning.)

Where can people get instruction on how to prevent drownings?  Red Cross courses are offered at countless community pools — those pools are, alas, generally the first services cut back when cities and counties trim budgets, as they have been trimming since the start of our nation’s financial woes in 2008.    Other good sources of anti-drowning instruction are the YMCA, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts.

I received lifesaving instruction at community pools, and in Red Cross sanctioned programs at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.  I earned the Swimming, Lifesaving, Rowing and Canoeing merit badges in Scouting, and I taught rowing and canoeing at a Scout camp and another camp, and I taught Red Cross Lifesaving for several years as a WSI.

Even in Dick Schwendiman’s astounding Advanced First Aid course at the University of Utah, I didn’t learn the following stuff about drowning, however (another Red Cross certified course).  Regardless whether you can get a lifesaving course, or if you’ve had one, you need to go read Mario Vittone’s stuff on drowning, and how to recognize when someone in the water needs help:

Button, Drowning doesn't look like drowning

The new captain jumped from the cockpit, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the owners who were swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound.

You’ll find that life-saving article at Mario Vittone’s blog on boater safety. If you are a teen ager, a parent, a grandparent, or you ever swim, you need to read that article.  (Thanks to P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula for pointing the way to that post.)

Will you help save a life, please?

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