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Water safety urged as summer season begins

COVINGTON -- Summertime and water play go hand in hand, but local safety officials are urging caution before jumping in.

Though Newton County had no drownings in 2011, there were three in 2010, and over the past decade, there have been many drowning incidents and water emergencies at Factory Shoals, Lake Jackson, pools and bathtubs, according to Fire and Life Safety Specialist Lt. Cydnie Taylor-Ridling with Newton County Fire Service.

Many of those incidents resulted from not taking proper safety precautions, she said. The most common mistakes people make are drinking while swimming, swimming after dark, swimming alone and swimming in unsafe waters, she said.

"Swimming in rivers is totally different from swimming in a pool," Taylor-Ridling said."People don't think about that. You can't see what's underneath the water, rocks shift, and people get caught in rocks and in the current and it's hard to resurface, especially if you're swimming alone."

Rain, or a lack thereof, could also cause changes in the river water, "making what was familiar territory no longer familiar," she noted.

Adults often overlook sources of standing water such as toilets, buckets and wading pools, where small children could drown, she added. The best way to protect children is through constant adult supervision, combined with precautions such as keeping toilet lids down and installing toilet seat locks, immediately draining tubs, buckets and containers after use.

Taylor-Ridling said swimmers should use the buddy system, and always go with a friend. If that's not possible, always alert someone to where you are going, she said.

"Always use personal flotation devices," such as life vests, she said. "Make sure you're skilled and know the territory and know what you're doing. Sometimes kids just blow up a raft and hit the creek."

While vacationing on the coast, Taylor-Ridling recommends only swimming where a lifeguard is present.

Nationwide, since 1999, an average of more than 815 children ages 14 and under died from unintentional drowning. Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and under.

If you witness a water emergency event, call 911 immediately, Taylor-Ridling advised. Always have a phone close by and know the address of wherever you are. Notify a lifeguard, if one is on duty. Remove the person from the water and perform CPR if the person is not breathing.