Lethbridge Fire and EMS remind river safety tips ahead of summer season
It’s expect to be a hot summer across southern Alberta, which has officials reminding those planning to cool off in a river or body of water to be cautious and plan ahead.
“We strongly, strongly recommend PFD’s (personal flotation device) even if the water is only waist deep, shoulder depth, we don't want to see people succumb because they can't swim,” said Brendon Pyne, water rescue team lead with Lethbridge Fire and EMS.
He says wearing a life jacket, proper footwear, knowing how to swim, staying sober and having a float plan in place can save lives.
“Let somebody know where you're planning to put in, how long your trip is going to take and where you're planning to get out and then those people, they'll be able to contact you or start looking for you if you have not arrived at your destination,” Pyne said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Oldman River was flowing at 23.8 cubic meters per second, a slight decrease from earlier this month.
Lethbridge Fire and EMS did not have to respond to any water rescue calls on the river last summer and they hope that trend continues.
“This year, we're hoping the public service announcements that goes out, we keep people as safe as we can and that we don't have to go out, that is our ultimate goal,” Pyne added.
LEARN TO SWIM
Jillian Johnston, aquatics manager at the YMCA Lethbridge says wearing a life jacket and water shoes can be effective, but knowing how to swim can make the biggest difference.
“We always encourage everybody to have strong swimming abilities always because one of the things that happens when you fall into the water is people tend to panic,” Johnston said. “A lot of people learn to swim with goggles on and so when they fall into a river, they're expecting it to be clear and it's not, so that causes a lot of people to panic.”
Johnston says the YMCA Lethbridge offers swimming lessons to anyone.
“We have lots of swimming lessons,” Johnston said. “Right from babies all the way up to 99 and 100-years-old. It doesn’t matter the age.”
“Most drownings happen within one to three meters from a point of safety,” Johnston added.
The Oldman River may look tame, but Pyne says there's hazards below the water, especially near the high level train bridge.
He’s asking people to not jump off of the low-level girders on the high-level bridge into the water
“There’s so many hazards under the water, in and out of the pilings there,” he said. “We’ve pulled barbed wire out, rope, logs. When we’re doing training in and around that area, there’s so many hazards we encounter, and we’re professionals and we still have had issues.” If you see someone in distress or drowning, you are asked to call 911 and not enter the water.
“A drowning victim can potentially turn into two drowning victims,” Pyne said. “If you have something you can throw to them, something that can float for them to hold on to, or a jacket that you can potentially get them and pull them in with it we suggest, but do not go into the river to try to save somebody, you’ll potentially become a victim yourself.”
Lethbridge Fire and EMS provided these tips to staying safe:
- LFES recommends Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs or life jackets) for all persons floating in the river
- Inspect PFDs to make sure they hold air. This should be done at home before going to the river bottom
- · Have a float plan. This should consist of where you plan to enter the river, where you will be getting out, how long the journey will/should take and who is with you. Leave this information with family or friends so they are aware you are on the river. Talk about your group’s swimming abilities.
- Have footwear in case you need to exit the river prematurely
- No alcohol or drugs on the river. They impair your ability to swim and possibly fight the current, should you need to
- Have a cell phone in a waterproof bag to keep it dry in case you need to call 911
- Avoid the weir and recognize the warning devices. Portage around the weir by following the signs before the weir