Statistics show that we are in the middle of the deadliest time of the year. Sixty per cent of all Alberta drowning deaths occur in the summer. There were three drowning deaths in Alberta this week alone. A teenage girl drowned in Edmonton, a man drowned in Camrose, and a man was found dead in the water in a northern Alberta lake.
When many of us think about drowning we think about people swimming or boating without life jackets. Indeed some deaths do occur in those circumstances.
But some deadly threats are right in front of us. The Sturgeon River winds its way quietly through St. Albert and Sturgeon County. It looks benign as it connects with Big Lake. Anywhere along the reeds or grass, one wrong step could make you lose your balance, get stuck in the mud and unexpectedly land in the water. Children chasing balls or pets along riverbanks can also be recipes for disaster.
Lacombe Lake and any of the storm retention ponds or grassy areas that accumulate water after a storm also pose a risk. Just last year a little girl drowned in a storm retention pond in Morinville.
The people who rescue dogs that get into trouble in water are often celebrated as heroes. But some of those rescue attempts fail, with would-be rescuers either drowning or having to be rescued themselves. The teen girl who drowned in Edmonton this week was trying to rescue a dog from a retention pond. She was reported to be a strong swimmer, but got mired in mud.
While summer poses the greatest threat because more people are near water, people have to remain vigilant year-round. In April St. Albert firefighters reported three water rescue incidents in a three-day period. In two cases people plunged into icy water to rescue dogs, another where a boy plunged through the ice while catching a Frisbee. Luckily no one was injured in those incidents.
Some people say more signage and education is the answer to prevent drowning deaths. But you can’t put signs on every foot of a river or pond.
Barbara Costache, a spokesman for the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and the NWT, says people have to be educated about water dangers. She advises that no one should attempt a rescue in unknown water. The society recommends people learn to swim, always swim with a buddy, be within arm’s reach of children or non-swimmers, always wear a life jacket when boating, and always boat sober.
Children need to learn to stay a respectful distance from any water, and not to go in water without adult supervision. Eighty per cent of children who drowned were unsupervised at the time. Even adults are safer in numbers. Many drowning victims die alone. Strong swimmers can be vulnerable when panic, injury or a medical emergency happens in the water.
If we want to eliminate the water-related deaths in Alberta summers, we must take precautions when we are around rivers, lakes and ponds. Otherwise summer will continue to be the deadliest time of the year for drowning.