Preventing danger in the water

Pools and water parks pose unexpected risk for people enjoying warmer weather

CRYSTAL LAKE – While water can provide plenty of fun times during the summer, Stacey McNamara knows it also can be a source of great danger.

McNamara, aquatics director at Sage YMCA, said she sees too many people unprepared for all the dangers any body of water can pose. The county already has experienced the fatal consequences of water this year when a high school freshman drowned in April and an Algonquin man died after driving into a retention pond April 2.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported drowning as the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 14 and the fifth-leading cause for people of all ages.

“I feel there is a lack of respect for the water,” McNamara said. “People in general don’t take the time to learn about the water and they take it for granted. But swimming is the only sport that will ever save your life.”

McNamara said while she strongly encourages everyone to go through swimming lessons, there are some tips that could be a life saver in emergency situations. She said the worst habit she sees is people holding their breath under water.

As an attempt is made to swim out of a dangerous situation, she said the people should exhale while their face is in the water so when they come up for air they can maximize the time to inhale. She also said it is important to learn to float and relax to conserve energy.

“It’s that sense of panic that gets people in trouble,” McNamara said of those who cannot swim. “It’s never too late to learn.”

Potential threats at community pools and water parks can be just as dangerous as open water situations.

Dylan Peterson, manager at Emricson Park in Woodstock, said hundreds of people at a time in a small space, slick concrete surfaces and high dives create an environment where life guards must always be aware.

But all too often, he said lifeguards are treated as baby sitters or not taken seriously by some because many are in high school or college.

“It is a fun place to come so some people treat it as a vacation but there are things that need to be taken seriously,” he said. “People don’t realize how quickly you can get hurt and no one expects it to happen to them or their kids.”

Even local teens have started to develop ways to make safety a priority in dangerous waters.

Science group Fruit Salad – a team of six Crystal Lake eighth-graders who have competed internationally – developed a SAFE Kit, which stands for Simple Auto Flood Evacuation. The kit includes a safety tool with a seat belt cutter, window breaker and light; a 25-foot polypropylene rope; two magnetic handles capable of supporting 100 pounds each; and instructions on how to use the items.

The group has shopped the product around to local car dealerships and auto mechanic shops and gained some interest.

“We discovered that 63 percent of flood-related deaths occurred in automobiles in 2011,” said team member Audrey Godsell. “We thought it was something people would find useful in emergencies.”

Those interested in local swimming lessons can visit www.ymcachicago.org/sage or call 815-459-4455. Many local park districts also offer swimming lessons as do Centegra Health Bridge Fitness centers.

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