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First-ever Water Safety Summit has one Purpose - Spreading the Message About the Dangers of Water

By OC Register

Categories: Featured News
March 7, 2019

The people who gathered at Marina Park in Newport Beach, Wednesday, March 6, had a common goal — to stop people from drowning.

About 140 people – a mix of lifeguards, firefighters, hospital workers, swim instructors and others — came together at the first-ever Southern California Water Safety Summit to exchange ideas on how to get the message out about the dangers of the water, whether it be the open ocean and lakes, or home and community spas.

“A lot of times, people work in their own silos, professionally and regionally,” said William Koon, coordinator for Project Wipeout, a safety program run by Hoag Hospital that co-hosted the event. “Our biggest motivation was getting people in the same room so they could connect.”

Discussions spanned a range of topics, including the role of pediatricians in drowning prevention, gathering data and statistics, and how to get the word out about safety messaging and laws. Attendees came from as far as Seattle, Riverside and San Diego.

“The big-picture take-away was to try and motivate a lot of the folks working on different components to think a little bit bigger,” Koon said. “There’s been a lot of great work done locally in the different counties, but we’re trying to encourage people to think bigger about what’s going to help reduce drowning events and other injuries in the aquatic environment.”

Steve Concialdi, public information officer for the OC Fire Authority, spoke about the OC Drowning Prevention Task Force, formed in 2015, and how important it is to gather statistics to develop educational programming.

Preliminary data shows there were 107 drowning incidents in 2018: 61 non-fatal and 46 fatal.

Children under age five accounted for 36 of those, with five fatalities and 31 non-fatal incidents.

“Water is play time for them, they will find a way to get in that water. Community pools and spas — often there are not lifeguards available,” Concialdi said. “Even if they are, don’t assume the lifeguards are going to be watching.”

Of the reported fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents, 29 happened in backyard pools and spas, with 41 at community pools or spas. Twenty-five were in oceans or bays, 11 in bathtubs, and one was in a bucket, fountain or puddle.

Among the more surprising statistics: There were a large number of drowning incidents among people over 50; including 29 fatalities.

“Through the years, we started looking at some of our numbers — we were amazed about how many adults were drowning,” Concialdi said.

The yearly average for fatal drownings in Orange County is between 45 and 50. “One is too many,” he said.

A portion of the summit included a discussion of a new law — Pool Barrier Legislation SB 442 — that requires new or remodeled pools to have two safety barriers around pools instead of the previously required one.

Julie Lopiccolo, founder of the Jasper Ray Foundation, spoke about losing her son Jasper St. Claire in 2014 after a pool accident while in the care of a babysitter. Though the new law is amazing and groundbreaking, she said, it doesn’t have “teeth,” because there’s no enforcement mechanism.

“The implementation of the legislation is important,” she said. “We need to get the word out, so people know what the risk is.”

Huntington Beach Marine Safety Officer Doug Leach shared how the department developed the Surfers Awareness in Lifesaving Techniques, or SALT, program.

Lifeguards host two-hour training sessions with surfers — a one-hour lecture and another hour in the water — teaching them skills in case they are out in the water and someone nearby is in distress.

“We were seeing surfers render help and aid when lifeguards were off duty or off season,” he said. “Surfers have water skills and they are always in the water from sunrise to sunset.”

Surfers learn how to recognize hazards, how to get a victim on a surfboard, how to keep the person’s airway clear and how to signal for help.

“When it comes to the water, every waterman and every waterwoman has an inherent obligation to look out for other water users,” Leach said. “It really takes a community to keep the water safe.”

Chris Carlson, father of Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson, who lost his life in 2014 during a rescue in big surf, spoke to the crowd about the continued efforts of the Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship Foundation, which co-hosted the event.

The foundation had three goals when it started: create a memorial honoring his son and lifeguards; give scholarships; and improve ocean water safety.

The Water Safety Summit was a way to fulfill the third objective, a way to get conversations flowing around water safety.

“Even though there were a lot of people doing really good things, it was really disjointed,” Carlson said. “There’s a lot of room for people coming together to collaborate more effectively.”

In addition to learning something new, and networking, he said, he wanted the people in the room to remember they are the ones who save lives.

“Sometimes we lose the vision of why we do what we do,” he said.

Please view the Orange County Register for the original article.