Staying Safe While Staying Cool

Staying Safe While Staying Cool

As the temperatures reach the 90s outside, it could be tempting to jump into the nearest watering hole to cool down. But doing so is not always the best thing.

Every summer, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department responds to several water-related calls, such as the drowning death of a 6-year-old girl after she slipped under the water in a hot tub during a graduation party in McLean this June, said Lt. Lorenzo Thrower, the department's public information officer. He said that between the time period of July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001, the department had a total of 31 water rescues.

Water-related accidents can be as easy to avoid as learning how to swim, according to guidelines published by the American Red Cross.

"The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around water is to learn to swim. Always swim with a buddy; never swim alone," reads the No. 1 general water safety tip by the Red Cross. The Fire and Rescue Department provides a link to the guidelines on its Web site,

"SAFETY is our top priority," said Judy Pedersen, Fairfax County Park Authority public information officer. "We try to minimize the safety hazards at all our facilities."

The Park Authority pools are staffed with licensed lifeguards who go through a 25- to 30-hour licensing and training program, annual license renewal and unannounced surprise inspections by Ellis & Associates, an outside, independent licensing company.

"We follow the National Pool and Water Park Lifeguard Training Program," said John McCarthy, Park Authority aquatics operations supervisor. "Our lifeguards are trained to anticipate where and how an incident might occur, how to recognize an incident and how to manage the incident while acting in a professional manner."

The Park Authority guards are also trained on life-saving equipment that includes the use of supplemental oxygen and defibrillators.

While it would not be feasible to have a lifeguard watching over every privately-owned pool in the county, some of the Park Authority's other water-safety regulations can be adapted for the home. Many of the regulations also appear on the Red Cross guidelines.

Pedersen said all children under 9 years old must be supervised at all times by a person at least 16 years old. That includes having the adult in the water with the child, not just watching from the pool deck.

In addition, there is no running in the pool area, horseplay is kept to a minimum, children under 16 years old must be tested before being allowed to swim in the deep-end of the pool and floatation devices, including "floaties", the air-filled rings used on children's arms to help them float, are not permitted.

"A child could go face-first into the water if he or she manages to get one off," Pedersen said of the floaties. "A child could also go out further than he or she should. It provides a false sense of security."

COUNTY REGULATIONS also require private pools and spas to have a surrounding fence or wall to prevent unauthorized use. All doors with direct access to the pool should have an alarm that sounds when opened and all doors and gates should be be self-closing and self-latching.

The Red Cross also recommends having a phone installed by the pool or having a cordless phone nearby. Owners should keep basic life-saving equipment such as a pole, rope and personnel floatation device on hand and to post CPR instructions.

In addition, alcohol can impair a person's judgment and coordination and will keep the body from being able to warm itself, therefore, the Red Cross says swimming and alcohol don't mix.

But not everyone swims in pools. There are several lakes and creeks throughout the county that attract swimmers, whether they are suppose to or not.

"People are not allowed to swim in creeks and lakes," said Pedersen.

Some associations, however, such as the Reston Association, permit swimming in some of the lakes it oversees.

But before jumping in, swimmers need to consider the risks. The Red Cross suggests swimming in areas that are supervised, clean and well maintained, and always with a friend.

"Even a good swimmer can have an unexpected medical emergency in the water," the guidelines say.

Murky water can obscure hidden underwater objects, unexpected drop-offs and aquatic plant life that could turn into hazards. In addition, water pollution can cause health problems for the swimmers. The guidelines also say to always check the depth of the water before jumping in head first, to avoid a serious head injury.