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With summer comes renewed calls for aquatic precautions

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | May 27, 2022

Courtesy Intermountain Healthcare

Wasatch County Search and Rescue personnel assist in a water safety awareness event at Deer Creek Reservoir in Provo Canyon on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Temperatures are going up, which means a lot of people will be heading to the water to cool off.

But before you rev up the boat or jump in the water, be aware of your surroundings and take proper safety precautions. They may end up saving your life.

“Please go out and enjoy our wonderful outdoors, but do it with the recognition that there are potential dangers,” said Dr. Doug Vogel, an emergency department physician at Intermountain Heber Valley Hospital and Park City Hospital. “We live in the mountains where things can change quickly. One minute it can be beautiful and the next minute there’s a storm coming in and your boat can capsize. That’s not only terrifying for someone who isn’t confident in the water, but also an advanced swimmer.”

Vogel said it might be warm outside right now, but the water is still very cold, which can lead to hypothermia — and that can set in very quickly. He said wearing a life jacket is probably one of the most important precautions a person can take when out recreating in the water.

“Just wearing a life jacket would save a lot of lives,” he said. “It’s just like wearing a seat belt in a car. It should just be automatic.”

Courtesy the Franco family

This undated photo shows Kalem Franco, who drowned while swimming with family at Deer Creek Reservoir in 2011 at age 17.

According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah experienced 45 unintentional drownings in 2020, the highest in a decade. Over the past five years, an average of 33 Utahns have died from drowning. A majority of those deaths happened in open bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and reservoirs.

That’s what happened to 17 year-old Kalem Franco in 2011 when he went swimming at Deer Creek Resort.

“He had just finished up his junior year of high school and his cousins from Virginia came to visit,” said his father, Leno. “He had just finished working out with weights and they decided to go to Deer Creek to have some fun.”

Kalem and his brother Eanton got on a rope swing attached to a tree. Eanton was wearing a life vest, but Kalem was not, said his father. Kalem held onto his brother as they fell to the water and tried to swim the 100 yards between the shore and the island, but Kalem’s legs began to cramp and he slipped under the water and drowned.

“My daughter called me at work and said they couldn’t find Kalem, so I left the office and headed to Deer Creek. On the way, I had a feeling this was going to be a body retrieval,” Leno Franco said. “Within a minute of me stepping out of the car, I got a message from the dive team that they found his body.”

Courtesy Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare caregivers fit people with life jackets during a water safety awareness event at Deer Creek Reservoir in Provo Canyon on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Franco said the accident changed his family’s lives forever.

“We learned from that ordeal and have had a lot of discussions about water safety,” he said. “I think the most important part of being in the water is to realize we are all vulnerable to the elements. None of us are invincible and we need to be safe about it.”

Jessica Strong, community health director at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, said a Coast Guard-approved life jacket should be a priority for anyone going in the water. They can be purchased almost anywhere and should have a stamp of approval on the vest or the label.

“It’s important to use the life jacket and not the floaties or little water wings that can deflate or slip off,” she said. “Also, a lot of people think children are the only high-risk group around the water, but adults are as well and so are teenagers. Teenagers are more impulsive and are more likely to overestimate their abilities.”

There are many other ways to stay safe in the water as well, according to health experts. Here are some other tips to stay safe in and around the water:

  • Never swim alone, even though it may seem peaceful and relaxing.
  • In open water, don’t dive in to save someone in danger. Instead, practice the “reach, throw, row or don’t go” method of rescue. Reach out to the person with any object they can grab onto. Throw them a life jacket or something to help them float. Use oars to row closer to them if you’re on a boat, but keep the motor away from them. If you can’t do any of the above, the best option is not to go. Although it’s a tough decision, you could end up being a victim yourself.
  • Lifeguards should always be on duty. “Make sure an adult is appointed to watch at all times,” Strong said. “And make sure everyone knows who that person is, whether they wear a funny hat or a bright colored shirt. That person should stay off their phone and undistracted while on duty.”
  • Know how to swim — you’re never too old for lessons.
  • Don’t use alcohol. If you shouldn’t be under the influence behind the wheel of a car, you shouldn’t be under the influence around water. “Alcohol numbs your senses, which is absolutely the last thing you want when you’re surrounded by an element that could easily kill you,” Vogel said.

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