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Use common sense around water
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The irrigation canals are now full, local lakes and reservoirs are filling up, and people are starting to get their swimming pools and boats ready for use. It will be just a few short weeks before summertime water activities are in full swing. Now is the time to make sure everyone in the family knows about water safety and how to swim.

Every year, adults and children drown in lakes, reservoirs, rivers, swimming pools, canals and the ocean. Drowning is one of the most preventable "accidents" of them all. It is not like being a hapless victim in a traffic collision or suffering an injury at the hands of another person. Drowning happens because some people do not know how to swim, others fail to wear life jackets when they really should and yet others drown as a result of being drugged or intoxicated. All of the aforementioned can be prevented through awareness and training.

It seems to me that knowing how to swim is one of the most basic life skills, and everyone should have at least the basic ability to tread water and stay afloat. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of five, and since they are too young to care for themselves, they require the most attention and protective action. The single, most important step a parent can take to reduce the danger of drowning is to enroll their child in swimming lessons. Even infants can be taught to swim; it comes naturally to them since they are born with an innate ability to do so. Unless parents capitalize on this natural ability, children quickly lose it as they grow older and then must be taught from scratch how to swim. Even if a child does not swim like a champion, just the fact that they feel comfortable in water and have basic "dog paddling" skills will substantially increase their chances for survival. Panic plays a major role in drowning, so if a child is comfortable being in water, they will be more likely to stay calm, increasing their chances for survival.

The next most important step to take is to provide all young persons, regardless of their swimming abilities, with life jackets. Do not accept their reluctance to wear one, especially when they are playing near or in any body of water. Life jackets are inexpensive and can be purchased at any marine store, department store and at most shops located near the lakes. I enjoy time at the ocean and other bodies of water, and I always feel a bit of relief when I see young kids, who are playing in or near the water, outfitted with life jackets with attentive adults nearby. During my career, I have been on scenes, too many times, both on and off duty, where a child has drowned. I cannot forget these events; finding the lifeless body of young child underwater and trying to console parents and siblings is one of the most difficult things I have had to do.

Adolescents are also an at-risk group. They may know how to swim, but because of a lack of healthy respect for the water, they take risks. Some adolescents drown from swimming too far from shore, only to find that they cannot make it back. Others dive head-first into murky waters and end up striking the bottom or other objects. Such collisions lead to skull fractures, broken necks or broken backs. A diving accident might also knock the victim unconscious, leaving them unable to surface. Safety hinges primarily on the use of good judgment; when alcohol or drugs are involved, the chances of drowning increases greatly.

Most people think about drowning and death as being inextricably linked. But, in many instances, people who have drowned manage to be revived. For every person who dies, many more sustain serious, long-term injuries from water-related accidents. Drowning victims who make it out alive can suffer permanent brain damage from oxygen deprivation.

Sign your children up for swimming lessons, keep a close eye on them in or near water (including home wading pools, bathtubs and toilets), and be sure to have them wear life jackets.

Let's work together to prevent drowning incidents this year, and have a safe summer.