BELMONT, Vt. – Don Richardson, with 42 years of lifeguarding experience, organized a recent educational water rescue event.
The event was an opportunity for the community to learn the basics of water safety and how to rescue someone in a panicked situation.
A staged water rescue proved how easily a fun canoeing trip on the lake could turn into a disaster, and how to save someone who’s drowning without becoming the next victim.
With Star Lake’s reconstruction and upgraded swimming and boating area, there has been much more swimming activity this summer than in recent years. What is typically a shallow lake now has some deeper waters because of the reconstructed dam, and this increases the likelihood of being in a dangerous situation, Richardson said.
He said as humans we live on a planet that is 75 percent water. Animals with gills can thrive in this habitat, but most mammals had better stay on land, including humans.
Water provides us with nutrients and a source of recreation, but it poses two problems: prolonged swimming in cool waters will lower body temperature, and everyone needs to breathe.
Richardson said that in a panic, water can become a lethal weapon. We can only breathe if our head is above water. Luckily, most people have enough air in their lungs to create a buoyant effect that will keep them above water, at least enough to breathe, if not swim to shore. Kicking can be your asset, propelling you to safety and keeping your head above water.
In the event that you are out on the water in a boat and the boat tips, do not panic. The boat will likely push away from you, but if it’s floating, it’s a perfect object to hold onto to breathe and eventually swim back to shore.
If you are in the position to save or rescue someone who is drowning, do not become the next victim. Getting in the water is a last resort. Row a boat over to help the victim and give them a rest, throw something that floats to them and secure the other end of the rope, pull them to shore once they’ve grabbed onto some floating device, and if all else fails, go in yourself. Bring a tool to help both of you, and let them relieve their panic and breathe before trying to help them back to shore.
Larissa Kazema and Gracie VanAkin volunteered with Richardson for roleplay of a possible incident on the water. While on an afternoon canoeing trip, they got distracted and the boat tipped over, sending both into the lake.
Larissa and Gracie both remained calm as they kicked their feet, breathed deeply, righted the boat, and began to push the boat to shore.
Strong swimming skills are essential for spending recreational time on water, and it’s important to have a plan of action in case something goes wrong, Richardson said.
“What will you do?” He said. “How will you breathe? Who are you with? Fear and panic are your worst enemies, and be wary of exhaustion. Row, throw, tow, and then go out into the water. Don’t become the next victim.”