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June is when Finns crowd their lakesides for midsummer and corpses wash ashore for days. It's a good time to review amateur life-saving, as taught by professionals to my local Red Cross team. Posmella explains above how the pro version melds dozens of factors into fascinating coreography, but anyone without that skill should focus on a simple idea:

Doing this unthinkingly will get you killed.

An online stranger's recollections will hardly cause thinking, but may show you what you're in for.

Anyone breathing water will be in a state of panic. Panicked people have been lost in burning airplanes because they didn't think of unbuckling their seatbelts to escape. In the water, they'll latch onto anything and will not let go. Look into it: you may find that drownings in your area tend to occur in pairs.

The smart rescuer still has options. The most common order of action (says Google) is throw, row, tow, go. That is, throw the victim a life ring, a personal flotation device or frankly anything that floats since there's nothing to lose; reach the victim in a nice boat for latching on and hauling onto; provide a rope, an oar or other item to pull him in; and enter the water.

"Enter the water" is the nightmare option. Do not enter the water if you can't swim. Do not enter the water if the current and waves trouble you. Do not enter the water unless you have an item that you can use to tow the victim at a safe distance, for his hands unmake all things. Swim out to meet the victim, always keeping the item between him and you. The step is sometimes given as "don't go" or "go for help," which seems to be for children: first aid tends to start with calling 911, having someone else call 911, or screaming for someone to come over and call 911. Bare hands are really very limited tools.

Our practical training was diverse. Life rings proved to be difficult to aim, and it was good to build a habit of checking around my feet before throwing a rope. Most of it was still dedicated to meeting the victim in the water. Stop a couple meters from the victim. Before closing bring your legs forward, ready to escape, and extend the arm or arms holding the tool that you're still keeping between you and him. If he makes a grab at you, abort and flee. If you are caught, push the victim forwards and upwards and try to dive underwater - aka the last place a drowning person is going to follow you. Should you be able to free yourself, abort and flee.

If rescue works, moving the victim is doable by a person of ordinary physical ability, as is lifting one onto a pier or to a poolside if there's a helper. There are a few tricks that are difficult to put into words. Once the victim's environment is no longer trying to kill him, the hard part's over! A promptly EMS'd victim has an excellent chance, and in the meantime CPR and treating for hypothermia or shock are done normally. He must still be seen at a hospital: water in the lungs can lead to progressive damage and a fun effect where the victim makes a full recovery and drowns on dry land the following week.

If rescue doesn't work and no option is available, bystanders are to stand by and let the victim drown. Diving after anyone is also forbidden, at least in these murky Northern waters. I asked the pros how strong drowning three-year-olds are. Apparently quite strong enough. Plus those things climb like monkeys.

The Red Cross plays defensively: Hold what you've got. The first priority at any accident scene is to avoid increasing the number of casualties. By placing numbers above heroics, it preserves life impartially.

Its approach makes perfect sense and is, in fact, the only rational option.


Things to remember:

  • Have a cell phone instead of a landline when you watch your kids at the pool.
  • If drunk, try to swim along the shore.
  • It's even called a life jacket.

Life"-sav`ing (?), a.

That saves life, or is suited to save life, esp. from drowning; as, the life-saving service; a life-saving station.


© Webster 1913.

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