Tragedy points up need for water safety

August 13, 2010

The tragic loss of six young lives in Louisiana last week is a stark reminder of the dangers associated with something that so many of us take for granted – a cooling swim on a hot summer day. As it turned out, none of these children could swim. Sadly, this is hardly a unique or new problem. It's been reported that Commodore Wilbert Longfellow engaged in a virtual one-man crusade for water safety in the early 1900's. In 1914 he enlisted the support of the American Red Cross to ensure the success of his aim, "the waterproofing of America." Yet here we are, 100 years later, and the tragedy in Louisiana reminds us that water safety is still a major concern.

A recent Red Cross national survey found that nearly half of the people interviewed planned to take part in water-related activities at places where no lifeguard would be present. This finding was in spite of the fact that almost half of those interviewed reported some form of water-related incident at a point in their lives. More worrisome is a 2008 study that revealed that as many as 58% of African American children can't swim. Adding to it, the study concluded that these children drown at nearly three times the average rate. As with most accidents, water-related accidents are preventable.

Recent news of private support for Baltimore City public swimming pools is exciting. These pools are not only a way for children to get active and escape the summer heat; they are a way to bring children into a setting where water safety training can be made available. The tragedy in Louisiana, coupled with numerous survey results, underscores the need for these programs.

John F. Eyring, Linthicum

The writer is a board member of the American Red Cross of Central Maryland.

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