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Guarding life

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

Don’t assume you’re safe just because you’re in a swimming pool this summer.

Actually, kids are most likely to drown in residential swimming pools, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site, and more than half of such accidental drownings happen at the child’s own home.

Swimming can present risks for adults as well. If you’re a man, think before you swim — or boat, especially if alcohol is in your system.

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"In 2004, males accounted for 78 percent of fatal unintentional drownings in the United States," says the CDC.

"Over 50 percent of drownings result from boating incidents that have involved alcohol," said Andy Tlougan, assistant director for the Southeast Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross. "Mixing boating and/or swimming with alcohol is a bad idea."

A total of 49 Minnesotans drowned in water-related accidents in 2006, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Tlougan’s advice includes finding a swimming environment where other people are present.

"If you’re swimming at the lakes or the rivers, it’s best if you can swim in a supervised area, in other words, if there’s a lifeguard there," he said.

Places like Foster Arends Park have well-marked swimming areas, and the marked areas is where you should stay while swimming, Tlougan said.

"The bottom is known. It gradually slopes down. It’s much safer than if you go into the other area — it gets real deep real fast and real cold real fast," he said.

What if you recognize that someone’s in trouble, either in a pool or in a Minnesota waterway?

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"You can throw something to them that floats, it could even be a cooler or a big log, or anything," Tlougan said. Try to calm the person and call 911. Enlist the help of others. But stay alert.

According to the DNR, between one and three people has drowned in Minnesota while trying to save someone else during each of the past five years.

If you’re the one who’s out on the water, prevention is key. When boating, Tlougan said, it’s OK to make a smart fashion statement.

"Even though it doesn’t look classy, it’s always good to have your Coast Guard-approved life jacket on," he said. If you see or hear a storm, it’s time to immediately move toward shore.

Drowning can happen anywhere. The DNR says the 49 Minnesota drownings in 2006 included 22 people who drowned in lakes, 15 in rivers, five in swimming pools, four in ponds or gravel pits and three in a bath or hot tub.

The best water safety advice, Tlougan said, is to learn how to swim well. Many Rochester-area high school students learn to swim while in school. Classes are also offered at a variety of area pools.

"All the swim lessons taught in this area will be people that are trained by Red Cross, so they’ll get some good, quality instruction if they stick to any of those types of places," Tlougan said.

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