‘Everyone should take a swimming lesson:’ Experts offer safety reminders ahead of pools opening

Updated: May. 24, 2019 at 6:28 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Memorial Day weekend is usually a busy time for pools, and experts say fun and safety should be at the forefront of every person’s mind.

“We recommend everybody take a swimming lesson,” said Jonathan McNamara with the American Red Cross. “You’re never too old to take a swimming lesson.”

The American Red Cross helps connect families to swim lessons. With drowning being the second leading cause of death for children under the age of 14, they want to equip people of all ages with life saving skills.

“I have two kids who have both gone through the aquatic safety program here at the (Weinstein) JCC,” McNamara said. “My son started in a program, getting comfortable with the pool when he was about 6-8 months old. We had him in, just getting comfortable obviously with us as parents there."

McNamara says when children are in the pool, it’s important to be an arms length away from them.

“We know that most drownings occur within less than 5 minutes if kids are unsupervised," he said.

With pools opening over Memorial Day weekend, lifeguards will be fully staffed at places like the Weinstein JCC, but Aquatic Director Myles Phelps says it’s still important for loved ones to be attentive.

“We want to be preventative, we want to watch for kids as they start to go towards the deep end, if parents aren’t watching them especially, it’s our responsibility as lifeguards to identify that,” Phelps said. “We drill into our kids the black line rule. At the bottom of our pool is the black line, and rule is you don’t pass the black line unless you’re with an adult.”

Phelps knows how quickly a life can be in danger.

“When I was about 3 years old, my babysitter took me and my brothers to the pool. He forgot to pack my life tube that day and left me in the shallow end,” Phelps said. "Next thing you know I had slipped down to the deep end, the bottom of the pool black and blue - a submerged victim. I am lucky to be alive.”

Phelps shares his story with every lifeguard he trains at the Weinstein JCC, hoping it will serve as a reminder.

“[I think about it] every single day. That’s why I’m here,” he said.

The Richmond Fire Department said in 2018, water rescue teams conducted 172 calls for service, and 94 people were rescued from the water. Six submerged victims were recovered.

They want the community to remember the following:

  • Ensure that everyone in the family learns to swim well and swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards. Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone.
  • Never leave a young child unattended near water and ensure a responsible adult is monitoring; teach children to always ask permission to go near or in water.
  • Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear approved life jackets around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone, supervise them.
  • Even if you do not plan on swimming, be cautious wading around natural bodies of water including ocean shoreline, rivers and lakes. Cold temperatures, currents and underwater hazards can make a fall into these bodies of water dangerous.
  • Never mix alcohol and water activities (even if you’re not getting in) as it impairs judgment, balance, coordination, swimming skills, reduces the body’s ability to stay warm. Alcohol isn’t allowed in city parks or pools without written permission.
  • Know how and when to call 911 or utilize the local emergency call system available.
  • If you own a home pool or hot tub, have appropriate equipment, such as reaching or throwing equipment, a cell phone, life jackets, and a first aid kit
  • By law when on the James in the City of Richmond, if water levels are at 5 feet and above, everyone on the river must wear an approved life jacket.

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