As summer heats up at last in British Columbia, experts are warning people about the dangers of playing in or on the water.
Dale Miller, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon branch of the Lifesaving Society, said it’s important to “know the water” you’ll be swimming in this summer.
It’s important to know “whether there’s currents, it’s cold water, a drop off… just to be knowledgable about the water they’re heading into,” Miller told Black Press Media by phone.
“We have a lot of glacier fed lakes in the province… that are cold even in the summer.”
Although fatal drownings in B.C. this year are down significantly compared to 2018, with just 18 compared to 47 this time last year, Miller said the recent stretch of hot weather could lead to more deaths.
“I know people think ‘oh, it’s never going to happen to me’ but when it does it helps if you’ve taken a few moments just to think ahead,” he said.
While the Lifesaving Society doesn’t offer the “Learn to Swim” that’s available through the Red Cross, Miller said they do offer a three-lesson Swim to Survive course that he called the “absolute minimum” anyone should have.
“Do you have some form of flotation device you could take with you? Do you have something you could throw to someone [who’s in distress]?”
But having a flotation device doesn’t guarantee your safety, Miller noted.
On July 27, a woman was sitting on a floaty in Hayward Lake near Mission when she was swept up by the current. The woman tried to swim to shore but was too exhaustive by the pull of the water.
That’s when a Langley man jumped in to help.
Shaun Nugent was able to rescue the woman but died the next day, for causes that have yet to be determined but that his wife said were connected to the rescue attempt.
Miller said that inflatable toys can give poor swimmers a false sense of safety in the water.
“There are many situations where people fall off on the inflatable and get separated from it,” he said.
“Then, being a non-swimmer or maybe panicking in the water is how they get in trouble.”
While any rescue attempt is heroic, Miller said it’s best to try and throw a life ring or rope into the water for the distressed swimmer whenever possible.
If you do have to get into the water, Miller recommends taking some sort of flotation aid – even a pool noodle – to help stay afloat.
“Just something that victim can hang onto as you’re towing them in… making sure there’s not two victims,” he said.
Miller said he was not aware of the exact cause of death for Nugent, but said that sometimes rescuers can suffer from what’s known as “secondary drowning,” where they don’t drown in the water but instead breathe in water.
“It’s caused up by a buildup of fluid in the lungs,” he said.
While only five per cent of rescuers get it, it can be fatal. It’s marked by shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing and chest discomfort. If anyone you know who’s been in the water starts displaying any of those symptoms, it’s important to get them to the hospital right away.