Rivers not yet ready for swimming during this summer
Recent string of drownings
remind they are too cold, too swift
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Between April 12 and June 23, five people drowned in Snohomish County rivers, and safety officials have some lifesaving advice to prevent more deaths.
Four of the victims were swimming, one was boating, but they all shared something in common with most drowning victims: they were not wearing life jackets.
“The biggest thing is I’ve never taken a dead body out of water that was wearing a life jacket,” said Sgt. John Adams of the Snohomish County Swiftwater Rescue Team.
For those considering an early summer dip in the river or dive from a height, Fire District 7’s public information officer Heather Chadwick has a simple message: don’t.
“We don’t recommend people be on the river this time of year unless they’re going kayaking and have life vests,” she said.
Many ill-fated swimmers have misjudged either the temperature of the water, the speed of the current, or both.
In 2016, 18 Snohomish County residents died in accidental drownings according to the Snohomish Health District, and about 25 children drown each year in the state according to Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“The rivers, the lakes, mother nature in general can be very deceiving,” Adams said. “When you stand on the beach and look at water, you don’t see how big that current is, (even) a low speed of 3 mph is extremely hard to swim against.”
“A lot of water in rivers is directly snow melt so it’s cold, and the temperature, the height and speed of the river fluctuates on a daily basis and (fluctuates) a lot,” he added.
Temperatures in local rivers can sink as low as the 40s, even on a sunny day where the air temperature is in the 80s.
In cold water, the body goes into shock, and victims will involuntarily gasp. Unable to call for help, a drowning victim may end up submerged in under a minute. With rapid onset hypothermia, victims lose muscle control and die quickly.
In those drownings, victims are “not screaming yelling for help, but quiet; nobody notices,” Chadwick said.
Chadwick says an outdoor swimmer’s best bet is to swim in lakes, always wearing a life jacket and in a group where someone can be on the lookout for trouble.
Children always need supervision, even as teenagers, Chadwick said.
A life jacket is not a babysitter, experts caution.
Even expert swimmers must be on guard: it doesn’t matter if you are a strong swimmer or were on a swim team, Chadwick said, the cold, the current and underwater obstacles are threats.
What lies beneath the surface can threaten boats and swimmers, causing injuries upon impact, impeding movement, and toppling boats.
“I can’t reiterate that enough if you do hit that snag and your boat flips over, you at least have that (life jacket on) so the water doesn’t drag you down,” Chadwick said.
Fire District 7 spans 98 square miles of south and central Snohomish County. Last year, they answered 26 water rescue calls between May and September, and calls are trending a little higher this year, Chadwick said.
Beyond rescues and warnings, local safety agencies under the auspices of Safe Kids Snohomish County are offering the free loan of life jackets throughout the county.
Make sure to fit the life jackets properly, officials say: a life jacket that slips off a child is no better than not wearing one.
Children under 13 are required to wear life jackets on boats, and there must be a life jacket on board for each boater, regardless of age or type of boat.
Loaner life jackets in all sizes are available for free day use on a first-come, first-served basis at:
• Silver Lake: 11405 Silver Lake Road, Everett
• Lake Tye: 14964 Fryelands Blvd., Monroe
• Fire District 7 headquarters: 163 Village Court, Monroe
• Flowing Lake County Park: 17900 48th St. SE, Snohomish
• Wyatt County Park: 10508 Chapel Hill Road, Lake Stevens
Plus at Gissberg Twin Lakes in Marysville, Martha Lake County Park in Lynnwood, Lake Goodwin in
Stanwood and from Marysville Fire Station 65 also in Stanwood.
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