Officials in Massachusetts are stressing water safety with a month left in the traditional summer vacation season.
Officials with the Massachusetts State Police, state Environmental Police, Chicopee Police, and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation gathered at a boat launch on the Connecticut River Tuesday to make a public appeal to be more careful in the water. Eighteen people have drowned in Massachusetts since June 1st. The summer is typically when swimming-related deaths spike.
Sergeant Blake Gilmore of the state police underwater recovery unit said people should not go in the water without knowing how to swim and should not swim alone.
"We've had even seasoned-swimmers that have had some medical condition, and we've had to pull them out as a result because they did not have spotters."
He also stressed the importance of knowing the conditions before going into the water.
" This river changes daily. Right now it is probably flowing at an easy 2 to 3 thousand cubic feet per second. With a heavy rain it can go up to 10 to 20 thousand cubic feet per second. People really need to check on the conditions before getting in ( the river)."
Environmental police officers in a boat demonstrated the rescue of swimmer.
Gilmore said people in boats should always wear life jackets and he warned of the dangers of drinking and driving a boat.
"That is a huge issue."
Water-filled quarries that can be found throughout Massachusetts account for a number of drownings each year.
"A lot of the quarries are restricted, and you are not supposed to go in there,and I understand that some times entices young people to go anyways."
Chicopee police officer Michael Wilk urged parents to be vigilant to prevent drownings in backyard pools.
"It is really important that people watch their kids, make sure pools are fenced and be outsides with their kids at all times."
The Massachusetts DCR moved to expand a learn-to-swim program a couple of years ago following a spike in drownings and near-drownings of children under 12. John Dwinell, the agency’s director of aquatics, said hundreds of children took the free two-week water safety courses at DCR pools in Springfield and Agawam this summer and there are plans to offer a program for adults next year.
"We've piloted that in Roxbury and it has worked out very well. The more people we can get in a learn-to-swim and survival course in the water the better off we are all going to be."
Children ages one to 14 account for the largest percentage of drowning victims, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in five drowning victims are children.