Local News

Friday, Jun 28 2013 06:05 PM

Don't become a statistic: Coalition stresses water safety

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    Firefighters from Bakersfield Fire Department, Ryan Dembosky, left, and Saul Alvarado, right, prepare for a water safety demonstration at Kern River Campground on Friday morning. Dembosky and Alvarado use a dummy to simulate someone drowning, which they later rescue during the demonstration. The Water Safety Coalition held a Water Safety news conference, safety demonstration and camper canvass to remind the public of the importance of water safety.

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  2. 2 of 5

    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    Firefighters from Bakersfield Fire Department rescue a dummy entangled in rope during a water safety demonstration at Kern River Campground on Friday morning. The Water Safety Coalition held a water safety news conference, aafety demonstration and camper canvass to remind the public of the importance of water safety. In 2012, two out of the seven people who died from drowning in Kern County drowned in the Kern River.

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  3. 3 of 5

    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A firefighter from Bakersfield Fire Department, Saul Alvarado, pulls fellow firefighter,Larry Eichner out of the Kern River as part of the water safety demonstration at Kern River Campground on Friday morning.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A visitor at Kern River Campground watches as firefighters from Bakersfield Fire Department make their way to the Kern River to prepare for a water safety demonstration on Friday morning.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    Jana Slagle, a social worker for Kern County Department of Human Services, hands out a water safety guide to Alex Lammers, 12, at the Kern River Campground on Friday morning. The bag included fact sheets, water safety tips and coloring books to help kids learn about water safety.

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BY LAURA LIERA Californian staff writer lliera@bakersfield.com

In 2012, seven people drowned in Kern County. Two of those deaths occurred in the Kern River, one in Lake Isabella, two in canals, and two in swimming pools. Two of the seven were children. This year, there have been four suspected drowning deaths.

On Friday, the Kern County Water Safety Coalition, made up of departments such as the Kern County Fire Department, Kern County Search and Rescue and others, talked about the importance of being safe when around large bodies of open water.

"We have found that many people like to walk along the banks of canals and they might take a wrong step and fall in without anyone seeing so they drown," Chief Brian Marshall of the Kern County Fire Department said. "You don't want to be another statistic."

The Swift Water Team for the Bakersfield Fire Department demonstrated a water rescue mission at the Kern River Campground at Lake Ming. They strapped a dummy on a tree branch that sits in the river and two firefighters reached the dummy on a raft.

"This is an example of people getting stuck in what we call strainers which is anything like a tree or fence where water flows underneath and is not visible to the eye," Battalion Chief Anthony Galagaza said.

Usually a person's leg gets stuck on the bottom as they are coming down the river and since they don't understand the flow of the river and the potential it has to pull bodies down, they drown.

The Swift Water team has about 30 members who practice every week, especially during summer months when they get two to three calls a day just for possible drownings in the river.

Although the coalition does not recommend people get into rivers or other open bodies of water, they know people will take a chance and stay near the edge of a river, thinking they are safe.

If you are going to get into the river, Misty Peters of the American Kids Sports Center recommends adults and children wear U.S. Coast Guard- approved life jackets.

"Parents are going to see there are parts of the river that are low and that a simple pair of floaties will do for their kids but a floatie is a toy that can pop and it offers no flotation device," Peters said as she showed the proper life jacket to use.

This year's river level is historically low, flowing at only 646 cubic per second, but it does not mean the river is any less dangerous.

From above, the river looks calm, but it can be deceiving.

"The river is always changing so never assume it's going to be safe," said Bob Fallon of Kern County Search and Rescue. "Wear a life jacket if you get into the water but keep an eye out for your children and make sure they are also wearing a life jacket to prevent any tragedies."

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