An education in water safety at Bay Oaks
On the average, half a dozen children die each year in Southwest Florida every year due to drowning.
Statistics like that were the driving force behind the water symposium held at the Bay Oaks Recreation Center Nov. 7.
The symposium educated dozens of folks who showed up for the event on water safety. The event also featured hands-on CPR training lessons and a testimonial from the parent of a child who drowned.
For Lee County Sheriff’s Office Marine Operations Lt. Chris Nyce, with 48,000 registered boats in Lee County, the third-most of any county in Florida, this is a busy place.
“The boating traffic on a holiday weekend is tremendous,” he said.
The county’s marine unit has eight full-time deputies covering approximately 48 miles of beaches.
“We do over 1,200 boardings every year,” he said.
He referred to 2017 statistics since 2018 is considered an anomaly due to the Red Tide. “You couldn’t breathe,” he said.
In 2017, there were 766 boating accidents statewide with 437 injuries and 67 fatalities.
Lee County was fifth in the state for boating accidents.
The top reason for boating crashes are not, as some in the crowd assumed, alcohol. Instead, the top reason is not paying attention to other vessels. “Beware of your surroundings,” he said. A lot of collisions happen from last-minute turns, he said. It is important for the lookout to be watching, he said.
“We run about 300 search and rescue cases each year with the U.S. Coast Guard,” Nyce said.
One of the common problems the sheriff’s office sees is a lack of safety jackets being worn. Those who operate boats can attach those jackets to kill switches, which can prevent an operator from being overrun by their own boat.
Nyce also warned of rip currents. “We had a bad year for rip currents,” he said. “We lost some people we shouldn’t have but also saved some.”
If you find yourself against a rip current, don’t try and swim against it, Nyce said. “Relax and paddle back to the beach,” Nyce said.
Sally Kreuscher, Safe Kids Coordinator at Golisano Children’s Hospital, organized the symposium.
“Unfortunately, drowning happens here in Southwest Florida all too often,” she said. “We see so many kids at our hospital for drownings.”
Kreuscher said most drownings happen at homes. She urges pool owners to use “multiple layers of protection” around their pools to avoid drownings.
Testimonial and call for state action
For Tampa’s Brittany Howard and April Phillips, child drowning is personal.
Howard’s 2-year-old son Kacen died one day before his third birthday when he drowned in the family’s pool while he was left with a babysitter. Howard had gone on a shopping trip with Phillips.
They are pushing to pass the “Kacen’s Cause Act,” which is intended as an update to the Residential Pool Safety Act. The current law requires homeowners with pools built since 2000 to install one of five safety measures including a pool barrier, pool cover, alarms, and self-closing mechanisms for doors leading to the pool. Under the proposed law, homeowners would be required to install two safety measures at all Florida pools, not just those built since 2000.
How to save a life
The Town of Fort Myers Beach Fire Department held a hands-only CPR demonstration. Ron Martin, executive assistant fire chief, explained how important hands-only CPR can be. Those giving CPR should push hard at the center of somebody’s chest at least 100 times a minute, Martin said.
Do not stop until paramedics arrive, he said. The victim should be laying on a firm, flat surface.
This part of the symposium was also personal for Bill and Roz Grady of Fort Myers Beach. Mr. Grady, who is now 69, suffered a heart attack in 2013 while working on a construction site. “It felt nauseating, all kinds of pain,” he said. He chewed two aspirin tablets and took a shower, thinking it could be heat exhaustion though he already had three stents in his heart. His wife drove him to the emergency room. He never passed out but was in “extreme pain” until an angioplasty relieved his heart attack. He said heart problems run in his family. “A lot of this is in the genes.”
Other demonstrations at the symposium included one from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary on kayak safety and a joint exercise on saving a drowning victim by the Bay Oaks Aquatic Team, Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Myers Beach Ambulance Company. A helicopter from the sheriff’s office also landed at the center as part of the demonstration.