Memorial Day typically signals the arrival of warmer weather, and also reboots the water rescue season. The summer months will bring triple-digit days and a mass migration to our local water recreation sites, lakes, rivers and pools. The Bakersfield Fire Department has been gearing up for the inevitable surge in water related response activities through ongoing training in the complex maneuvers necessary for water rescues. But let's begin with our annual review of BFD water safety suggestions.
The Fire Department message is always to avoid the Kern River outright, because most solo recreational users are not swift-water experts. There's plenty of focus and media on the river already, but water safety is a major concern in and around pools, lakes and other water sites that are used more frequently during the summer.
The Kern County Department of Human Services water related statistics indicate that 11 people drowned in 2013. One of those fatalities was in the Kern River, two were in lakes, six were in swimming pools or hot tubs, and two were in canals. Two of those fatalities were children. And according to Heidi Carter-Escudero of the Water Safety Coalition, there's already a juvenile drowning to add to the 2014 statistics.
National statistics continue to show children are indeed the most at risk group. A swimming pool is 14 times more likely than a motor vehicle to be involved in the death of children age 4 and under. Each year, approximately 1,150 children age 14 and under drown, and more than half are under 4 years old. Each year, an estimated 5,000 children age 14 and under are hospitalized due to near-drowning.
To reduce those numbers, the Bakersfield Fire Department asks everyone to follow these water safety rules:
* Call 9-1-1 immediately for a water related emergency.
* Children must always be supervised around water.
* Flotation devices and inflatable toys are not substitutes for supervision.
* Learn to swim with Bakersfield Recreation and Parks -- www.bakersfieldswim.us.
* Learn cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) -- www.kernredcross.org.
* Swim only where a trained lifeguard is present.
* Never swim where there may be hidden hazards.
* Never dive into any water unless you are sure of its depth.
* Never enter canals, irrigation facilities or drainage ditches.
* Wear a life jacket when appropriate.
Although not always obvious, there are many non-recreational waterways in Bakersfield utilized strictly for moving large volumes of water, and not for public access. Canals, irrigation facilities, or drainage ditches should always be considered off-limits.
The Kern River remains the headlining concern for water safety locally, but fisherman, kayakers, rafters and other river enthusiasts are drawn to this resource from around the state. Again, the Fire Department generally recommends avoiding the river unless you're with trained water guides or experienced enthusiasts using maintained equipment and certified personal flotation devices. But floating down the river on an inner-tube or pool toy, especially with alcoholic beverages, is never a good idea.
The Bakersfield Fire Department recently participated in a Water Safety Coalition media demonstration on the Kern River, in an effort to remind residents of the danger. BFD firefighters utilized their swift-water rescue expertise to demonstrate a very technical, rescue-boat based operation to pull a simulated victim from the middle of the current. We noted that with the much lower anticipated flows, there are underwater obstacles, low-head dams, strainers, eddies, submerged debris and exceptionally powerful currents that are more prevalent now and make entering the river still a very risky endeavor.
If you take that risk, or fail to abide by general water safety practices, you may take an unwanted boat ride with BFD swift-water rescue personnel, or be visited by other agencies tasked with responding to water emergencies. For more water safety information, visit www.kerncares.org.
On behalf of the men and women of the Bakersfield Fire Department, I ask everyone to please think about potential hazards and safety precautions before entering any body of water this summer. I wish everyone a safe water recreation season.
Contributing columnist Doug Greener is chief of the Bakersfield Fire Department; the views expressed here are his own.