Beach season is here again, which, unfortunately can mean tragedy. There are usually more than a dozen drownings every year in Manitoba. Jon Sorokowski is the water-smart co-ordinator for the Livesaving Society's Manitoba branch. He also was a lifeguard for six years. The Winnipeg Free Press talked to him about water safety.
FP: How hard is it to be a lifeguard?
A: Most people just see lifeguards as people sitting up in the chair or looking down the beach and enjoying their time, but there's a ton of things that go on while you're lifeguarding. You constantly have to be alert in order to see if someone is potentially drowning. The lifeguard's main role is actually to prevent any incidents. Obviously, accidents do happen now and then, but a really good lifeguard prevents things before they happen. Some things are out of our control, but there's a lot going on -- always watching everyone in the water, taking account of the heat if you're outside. Even some pools are extremely humid. The lifeguards really have to be watching at all times, making sure they're well-hydrated and alert and vigilant while they do their job.
FP: How difficult is it to spot a drowning?
A: Most people assume, because of what they see in movies, drowning people splash and make noise and call for help, but really, the Lifesaving Society refers to drowning as the silent killer. It can happen in as few as 10 seconds, and a momentary lapse in supervision can have drastic results. Quite often, people flip underneath the surface and we don't hear them screaming because they don't have the ability to keep themselves up. If you do see them, you see wide eyes. They look very scared. If they do have a chance to do anything, they're going to be taking a breath. They're not going to be screaming for help. So drowning isn't like it appears in the movies, and it's important lifeguards know that, but it's also important for the public to know that too, because you won't hear someone screaming if they're drowning.
FP: Do you have any personal experiences with this?
A: My best example of that is I was in Mexico, and I didn't make a good choice. I swam out a little too far from the shore and I basically almost drowned myself. I'd been swimming my entire life, been a lifeguard for many years. I'd been teaching these things for many years as well. So just because you're a good swimmer doesn't mean you're immune from drowning. It was fun to play in the waves. We swam out, the waves got a little bit bigger. I should have gone back in, but I didn't right away, and then all of a sudden a really big wave came around. It threw me into the water. I curled up into a ball because I wasn't sure what was going to go on, and I was hoping people still knew I was out there. Luckily, I escaped without any injuries whatsoever, and it's a story I tell my candidates in lifesaving courses that again, you're not immune from drowning just because you know how to swim.
FP: What should everyone know when it comes to swimming?
A: The Livesaving Society has something that nationally we call the swim-to-survive standard. And what those are are three skills we believe all Canadians, everyone in Canada, should have in order to prevent drowning. Those skills are to roll into deep water, to tread water for 60 seconds and then to swim 50 metres to safety. Our belief is that if everyone in Canada had those three skills, then we could essentially eliminate drowning from happening.
So the roll is to simulate an unexpected fall into water. We know most people who drown didn't intend to go into water. They were the people on the dock and then fell off, or they were in the boat, or they were sitting beside the pool, and then something happened that caused them to fall into water. If people know how to roll in safely and do that disorientating entry, then they will be a little more comfortable should they find themselves in such a situation.
The second skill is treading water for 60 seconds. So that's surface support, keeping yourself up in order to get your bearings, and then getting your breathing under control. So if you can do that for 60 seconds, in case of an emergency, you would be able to look around, find a point of safety, and, as I mentioned, getting your breathing under control.
Then the last skill is a swim of 50 metres. For the swim-to-survive standard, you can do any swim, so it could be doggy paddle, front crawl, it could be anything that you know. And the goal for that is to get to safety. Our belief is that if you can swim 50 metres comfortably doing any stroke, then you could easily do the three or the five or the 10 metres to get to safety in an actual emergency.