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From Connie Harvey

Summer Is No Time to Take Vacation from Water Safety

Summer-with its promises of refreshing dips in the pool, cool-downs at the lake and the total relaxation that comes from the sight and feel of sand-is finally here. The water is calling and the kid in all of us is more than eager to answer. Indeed, perhaps only second to the season of peace on Earth and goodwill to all does the calendar make us as comfortable with loosening ties and relaxing rules.

Just what the doctor ordered right?

Not exactly.

To put it another way-so that everyone comes back from "leaving it all behind" healthy and safe, the rules of safety in and around the water should be anything but loose or relaxed; in fact, they should be as tight as possible.

According to the National Safety Council (www.nsc.org), drowning claims the lives of more than 4,000 people every year. Although all age groups are represented, children under the age of 4 have the highest death rate due to drowning. The good news is that most water tragedies can be prevented by remembering a few basics:

Learn to swim and swim well. One of the best things anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is learn to swim. Many times a drowning victim had no intention of being in the water in the first place. No one, including adults, should ever swim alone. When young children are involved, adults should practice "reach supervision," which means to always be within arm's length of a child in the water to prevent an emergency.

Consider skills and limits. As a former lifeguard and current certified water safety instructor, this is a "rule of the pool" I find warrants repeating over and over again. Years ago I would warn over-eager patrons and today I remind parents-with no practice, it is a safe bet that the degree of skill exhibited last season will not be the same this season. And you can't assume those skills are as strong in different environments, say like the beach or lake versus the pool. It's a good idea to take time to get acclimated to the water at the start of each season and any time you head off to a new environment.

Outfit everyone with the proper gear. Kids - and even adults - who are not strong swimmers or who appear to rely on inflatable toys for safety should use U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices-life jackets- whenever they are in or around the water. Everyone, including strong swimmers, should use an approved life jacket when boating. Each person should have the appropriate life jacket for his or her weight and size, which is found clearly marked in the Coast Guard stamp. Nowadays, life jackets for kids are outfitted in great colors and with popular characters so let them choose their gear! Make a family day out of learning the rules of water safety and shopping for safety equipment at a local pool supply store or mass distributor.

Always keep basic lifesaving equipment by the residential pool and know how to use it. A first aid kit, cordless phone, phone list with emergency contact information, a reaching pole and a ring buoy with a nylon line attached are recommended. First aid kits, like the Good Housekeeping Institute top-rated soft one from the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org), should contain plastic face shields, which can help prevent disease transmission. Cordless phones allow you to make that 911 call and to receive calls without leaving the area.

In addition, the Red Cross recommends that pools be surrounded on all sides by a fence that is at least 4 feet high. It should not provide any footholds, which would allow a child to climb over, or spacing to climb through. The fence should have a self-closing, self-locking gate that is locked when the pool is not in use. These items coupled with rules for your pool and a pool emergency action plan-similar to a fire escape plan-ensures the whole family is prepared.

Pack a "safety" bag for a day at the beach or lake. Waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, water shoes to keep feet safe from the heat and sharp objects on land and plenty of water are musts. All containers should be plastic to prevent injuries from breaking glass. Also, a hat and sunglasses keep eyes safe from dangerous UV rays.

Learn water safety, first aid and CPR. Training staff in these lifesaving skills was a major part of my job as an aquatics facility manager years ago in Florida. For us, certification was a must but getting water safety, first aid and CPR skills from recognized training leaders like the American Red Cross is a good idea for everyone-especially caregivers for your children, including grandparents, older siblings and babysitters.

Connie Harvey is a certified aquatics, first aid/CPR and AED instructor and national health and safety expert for the American Red Cross. First in a series. 

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