PINE BELT (WDAM) - After two drowning deaths in Forrest County in 24 hours, Pine Belt swim experts are stressing the importance of swimming lessons, safety and supervision.
"First off, if you're getting in the water, you need to know how to swim," said Dewey Case, association aquatics director at the Family YMCA. "As has been unfortunately shown in the tragedies at the Leaf River and the community pool, you've got to know how to swim. It's just a requirement. We have to. We have way too much water."
Both the YMCA and the Laurel Parks and Recreation Department are offering summer swimming lessons to children, teens and adults to hopefully prevent future tragedies.
"We're about to start our lesson program starting on Monday for teens, adults and children," Case said.
Elvin Ulmer, director of Laurel Parks and Recreation, said, "This time of the year kids are attracted to water. Whether it's in a ditch, whether it's in a creek, whether it's in a pond, whether it's in a lake, whether it's in a river, kids just need to know how to swim. On behalf of the city, we just want to make sure that we're giving every kid the opportunity to learn how to swim."
A big way Ulmer said the city gives its residents that opportunity is offering lessons for free or at a very low cost.
"Kids going from the fourth grade to the fifth grade and kids going from the fifth grade to the sixth grade, they are actually free for a week," he said. "But we offer swim lessons throughout the summer. They're only $2 per lesson. We want to make it affordable for all of the kids to know how to swim."
Case said lessons are essential for adults as well because people age 15 and older actually account for the majority of drownings in the U.S.
"Regardless of whether you're starting at 4 or 40, the big thing is learn to swim," he said. "We find that children under the age of 15 only accounted for 20 percent of drownings, so 80 percent of drownings in the U.S. are from ages 15 and up. That's adults. It's very important for children to learn how to swim. It's critical, absolutely critical. It's just as critical for adults to learn to swim well. Not just being able to get across a pool, but learn to swim well."
Along with knowing how to swim, Case said supervision while swimming is essential.
"The biggest thing is just simply supervision," Case said. "We can't always swim with a lifeguard. There's only maybe six guarded pools in Hattiesburg, maybe eight at best. So if you're going to swim without lifeguards, and that's very likely in the city, in the area we live in, make sure that someone is designated to do nothing but watch and keep their eye on them and stay extremely vigilant. It only takes a second, and it only takes a cup full of water. On average, someone who's in a drowning state, on average, will go under water within 20 to 60 seconds, and then once they go under water, the odds aren't very good that they're going to survive. If they do survive, very likely they're going to have brain damage. So definitely a very, very short window."
Case said because drowning can happen so fast, it is important to recognize the signs.
"Drowning is called a silent killer," Case said. "People don't yell. They don't flail. They may do that, but it's a different category. Once someone starts to drown, their mind checks out. So what happens is they tend to get vertical in the water. You may just see their face. They may look like they're just trying to tread water. They're not going to have big, massive arm actions. They're not going to be splashing or thrashing around. It's a silent killer, and it look like that. So the only way to prevent is learn to swim, and then be vigilant. Be vigilant when watching others, especially young children."
"Life jackets are a critical tool," Case said. "A lot of times we see puddle jumpers. We see water wings, and we see all these inflatables. They're pieces of plastic. You can buy them at the dollar store for $2. Why would you want to trust your child's life to something that cost $2? Would you buy a $2 dollar car seat? You wouldn't. So get a nice life jacket, one that can get the head out of the water, and use that. Get in the water with your children. Get in the water as an adult with a life jacket with others. Enjoy the water, but be safe about it. And then learn to swim so you don't have to have the life jacket unless you're on a boat."
Case said swim lessons at both the Hattiesburg and Petal YMCAs are $65 for members and $90 for non-members. Teen lessons are offered for people 12- 17. Youth lessons are for children 4-11, and adult lessons are for people 17 and older. He said those interested can sign up for lessons at the front desk of either location.
Free swim lessons through the Laurel Parks and Recreation Department for children entering fifth grade are June 27- July 1, and lessons for children entering sixth grade are July 1- July 5. Anyone interested in scheduling a $2 swim lesson can call the parks and recreation department at (601) 428-6452.