Recent drownings are sobering reminder of need for water safety

Fun at Southwestern Ontario’s summer water hotspots can easily turn tragic if safety is not a priority.

There have been three deaths in the water already this summer, two of which happened last weekend. In a region characterized by lakes and rivers, it’s sobering reminder of how dangerous and deadly water activities can be.

St. Thomas resident Kelly Clements frequently visits Port Stanley. She said keeps a close eye on her grandchildren while at the beach.

“If my grandkids are at the water’s edge, so am I,” she said. “I’m always by their side, not just in a lawn chair.”

Kim Foster from Ingersoll said her family always uses a buddy system.

“It only takes two seconds for something to go wrong,” she said.

At Port Stanley, there are eight to 10 lifeguards on duty at the same time, said Elgin county fire chief Chris McDonough.

Training for lifeguards begins in May and they maintain their training by doing practice activities every other week.

“More training means more confidence,” McDonough said.

Extra photo signs with information about the riptide and undertow are helping to educate visitors too, he said.

There is a free life jacket lending program at Grand Bend beach to help keep beachgoers safe. Lambton Public Health also promotes its Water Wise campaign to raise awareness and provide education about water safety.

Last summer, a total of four people drowned in the region. The last drowning in Port Stanley was in 2016, but McDonough said several returning lifeguards marked the one-year anniversary of the death last year.

“It’s the same as any first responder. There is a possibility that a person can be affected severely by an incident,” he said.

Sixty-five per cent of people who drown in Ontario’s waters had been swimming in lakes or rivers at the time, said Barbara Byers of the Lifesaving Society. More than three-quarters of people who drown are male.

Common risk factors for drowning include being a weak or non-swimmer, alcohol consumption, being alone and not wearing a personal flotation device, like a lifejacket.

For children, about 92 per cent of drowning deaths occurred during distracted or absent supervision, according to this year’s Ontario drowning report by the Lifesaving Society.

Drowning deaths so far this summer:

  • June 17, 2018: A two-year old boy died two days after being pulled from his family’s swimming pool in Lakeshore.
  • July 2, 2018:Andre Bourgeois, 57, of Kitchener died in hospital after being pulled from a lake at a campground in Oxford County shortly before 4 p.m. on Monday.
  • July 2, 2018:Ebony Kay, 13, was rushed to hospital after she was found unconscious in a small lake at Woodland Lake campground north of Mitchell in Perth County. just before noon on Monday. She died in hospital on Tuesday.

Summer 2017 drowning deaths:

  • April 7, 2017:Nicholas St. Pierre-Beke, 23, of Cambridge, died after being trapped under his canoe when it capsized on the Nine Mile River northeast of Goodrich. He was not wearing a life jacket.
  • May 4, 2017:Steven Matthews, 43, of London drowned while jet-skiing on Arva Pond. Authorities had issued warnings for citizens to stay away from water because of heavy rains at the time.
  • May 28, 2017:Juan Carlos Alfaro, 25, a Mexican national living in Kingsville, was fishing on Lake Erie near Kingsville when friends on shore saw him capsize. His body was found five days later. He was not wearing a life jacket.
  • June: 1, 2017: Bennett Zeller, 22, of Queensland, Australia, was canoeing in Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay with another man with their boat capsized. His body was found four days later. He was not wearing a life jacket.
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