Gerry Dworkin was already up to speed on the number of drownings and close calls in New Hampshire this past weekend, before he was asked for his expert advice.
Among the stories he had read were those about the two weekend drownings – a swimmer in Nashua and 3-year-old in Windham – as well as a close call for some fishermen on Lake Pemigewassett in Meredith, and countless others around the region.
"Yes, I saw those stories in my Google email alerts," said Dworkin, who recently relocated his business, Lifesaving Resources, from New Hampshire to Maine.
"Actually, the sheer number of incidents I've seen this year far surpass anything I've seen in the past, especially this early in the season here in New England. Day after day and incident after incident, it's tragic to know when someone loses their life this way," said Dworkin.
Most jarring are those incidents that involve young children, Dworkin said. But it's not only young or inexperienced swimmers who become drowning victims.
In his 30-plus years as a lifeguard, firefighter and EMT, Dworkin said education, training, vigilance and common sense must be applied to any situation involving people recreating in and around the water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10 people die every day from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children age 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Most vulnerable are men, and children between the age of 1-4.
In terms of water safety, there are a few keys in all instances:
- Active supervision of all swimmers; using the buddy system in open water
- Appropriate layers of protection around pools
- Use of appropriate lifejackets for boaters and in open water
- Knowledge of proper CPR techniques
Dworkin explains: "These all go hand-in-hand. Actually, the first layer of protection is supervision – anytime a chid is in or around the water, parents or pool owners need to be vigilant. It's not enough just to be present. Adults need to provide active presence. Especially if there are children who are non-swimmers, I recommend 'touch supervision' which simply means you are in constant contact with that child," Dworkin said.
In 80 percent of incidents involving child drownings, the parent said they had no expectation their child would be anywhere near water, Dworkin said.
And that leads directly to the "layers of safety" approach to backyard pools.
Although it's not required in New Hampshire, Dworkin is an advocate of isolation fencing around residential pools, which means all four sides or a pool are secured by a gate or the home.
"Gates must be self-closing and self-latching, they should open up away from the pool, because a child has a tendency to push on a gate rather than pull, and the latch should ideally be at least 54-inches high," Dworkin said.
He also said people should understand the difference between a certified safety jacket and recreational flotation products, which can give parents a false sense of poolside security.
"There is a misnomer that life jackets are only usable for boating purposes. We advocate young kids and weak swimmers use life jacket anytime they're around the water, and by life jacket, I mean a U.S. Coast Guard approved jacket, not arm floaties or back floaties," Dworkin said.
Which leads to the subject of boating safety.
While national statistics indicate between 4,000-5,000 drowning deaths annually, Dworkin said the number is more like 7,000. Not counted among the drowning statistics are those who drown as the result of boating incidents, which are tracked separately, or those who drown inside a vehicle that becomes submerged in a body of water.
Across all drowning statistics, 99 percent of all those deaths are preventable, Dworkin said.
"Excluding drownings that are the direct result of a medical issue, a majority of drowning deaths are preventable. People should not be recreating beyond their capabilities, using drugs or alcohol while in the water, or boating without a life jacket," Dworkin said.
Whenever boaters fall out of canoes or kayaks, their chances of survival are greately affected by whether they are wearing a life jacket.
"Anytime you are in on or around water in a boating situation, I strongly advocate a life jacket, especially in New England. You an be a competent swimmer, but when you're in 95 degree temperatures and you jump into cold water – we're talking anything colder than 70 degrees – the body experiences a 'gasp' or 'torso' reflex," Dworkin said.
"If your face is in the water when you gasp, you aspirate water and it will shut your airway down. If you don't have air in your lungs, you will submerge, you can't get your breath because your aiway goes into laryngospasm, and you drown," Dworkin said.
A former lifeguard and longtime resident of Harrisville, Dworkin served as a firefighter and EMT before eventually parlaying his interest in water safety to a consulting business focused on water and ice rescue training for police and fire departments, and lifeguards.
"We run training programs around the country – in fact, we trained every single North Hampton firefighter in water rescue following a serious rip current incident in 2005," Dwokin said. "Even people who are trained rescuers can run into trouble."
Although the company moved in January of 2012 to Kennebunkport, Maine, Dworkin continues to conduct training around the country.
You can learn more about Lifesaving Resources LLC upcoming training seminars and safety tips here.