David Benjamin shot out of the red slide, located at Washington Park Pool, and straight into the pool. He then started to bob up and down in the water, seemingly unable to stay afloat.
This was the beginning of a water safety demonstration as part of the 2022 Washington Park Pool Family Swim and Water Safety event, which was sponsored by the City of Kenosha and presented in cooperation with the Kenosha Safety Around Water Coalition.
“But what he knows what to do is remind himself how to flip, he has now gone onto his back,” said Seth Weidmann, the head men’s swimming and diving coach at Carthage College, who was also narrating the demonstration. “That leaning back motion allows him now to float, figure out where he is and figure out how to get back to shore.”
The flip, float, follow method was emphasized throughout the water safety event as the most important safety tip to remember.
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“The emphasis is if you want to survive a water emergency, you have to stay at the surface and continue breathing for as long as possible for either self rescue or for professional rescue to arise,” said Dave Benjamin, the co-founder and executive director of the Great Lakes Search and Rescue Project (and David’s dad). “So if you can get over the initial signs of drowning panic attack, and you don’t submerge in that first minute — and if you could float for two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes — you’re buying more time for either self rescue or professional rescue to arrive.”
Dave said people may know how to swim, but usually don’t have the endurance to prevent themselves from drowning in a lake.
“Most people assume that knowing how to swim (means) that you (couldn’t) drown,” Dave said. “But most people don’t associate swimming as an endurance sport.”
Tyler Cochran, a Kenosha Police officer, said there has been extra emphasis on the dangers of swimming in parts of the lakefront, but the same flip, float, follow method works in inland lakes and pools as well.
“We’ve always really hit that lakefront as being so dangerous, but we’ve never really talked about the inland lakes,” Cochran said. “We’re trying to spread that message, like just at a pool, make sure you’re practicing that same water safety that you’re practicing down at the lake.”
Dave said the signs of a drowning person are typically the person is facing shore, mouth is at water level, head is tilted back, the body is vertical and the person will be making a ladder-climbing motion.
“You’re going to submerge in less that one minute,” Dave said.
In a presentation given before the demonstration, Weidmann gave the following safety tips: the pier (and pike river) is not for play; when in doubt don’t go out; flip, float, follow; reach and throw, don’t go; don’t just pack it, wear your life jacket; and know what drowning looks like.
Cindy Altergott, CEO of the Kenosha YMCA, echoed those tips, along with recommending swimming lessons.
“One thing we have at the Y is the ability to offer reduced-rate swim lessons through a couple of different programs that we have,” Altergott said. “We have our scholarship program and the centennial program with the Red Cross, so even if someone doesn’t have the ability to afford swim lessons, we can provide them.”
Dave and Cochran also recommended swimming lessons.
“I think if we all remember that there’s dangers along with the fun, we can build a healthy respect,” Altergott said. “No one wants to stop having fun in the water, but we have to try to build that healthy respect, and that’s what events like this do is (it) reaches out and bring education to the community.”
Dave said water safety is not taught in the same way other public health issues are addressed.
“We don’t have a water safety school curriculum, but we have other curriculums for public health issues like fires, tornadoes, school shooting and earthquakes,” Dave said. “So it’s very important that we have face-to-face interaction with people about water safety.”
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