(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
The event runs from 9-11 a.m. It is free to the public, and those who attend can stay afterward and swim for free.
Water Safety Day is organized by United Way of Bedford County, Shelbyville Parks and Recreation and Shelbyville Fire Department. It honors the memory of 2-year-old Matthew G. Woods, who drowned in a relative's pool in August 2008. Drowning is the second-leading cause of injury deaths among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first Water Safety Day was recognized in 2009 by the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association. Henry said other communities have contacted the center asking for information about the event, hoping to replicate it in their own communities.
All of the instructors at the event will be official American Red Cross-trained water safety educators, said Henry. Each family attending will receive a copy of the Red Cross Water Safety Handbook,
There will be separate presentations for children and adults. "It's the same information, but we give it out a different way," said Henry.
Children will be shown basic water skills and taught safety rules, many of them with easy-to-remember rhymes, such as "Reach and throw, don't go," meaning to toss a flotation device to someone in deep water rather than jumping in after them; and "Don't just pack it, wear your jacket," encouraging the wearing of life jackets while boating. There will be pool games and door prizes as well.
Parents will be taught water safety rules as well. One of the key ones is that alcohol and water don't mix. Henry admits that a day on the lake is likely to involve a 12-pack of beer -- "It's the South," she sighed -- but the stakes are high, and the consequences could be fatal. Children under 13 are required to wear a life jacket at all times while boating, and there must be enough life jackets on board for all passengers. The correct usage of the jackets will be demonstrated; they aren't as effective if improperly worn or fastened.
Henry also recommends that owners of home pools gate them to prevent unauthorized use. She also says they should lay down clear rules with children for when they can and can't be in the pool.
Supervision is critical and must be constant. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cases where small children suffered from swimming pool accidents, 77 percent of the victims had been seen by a parent or guardian within the past five minutes. That included Matthew Woods, whose parents had seen him shortly before his accident.
"He was just with them," said Henry. "It really, truly only takes a moment."
"Drowning is a silent killer," said Purnima Unni, Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program coordinator at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. "There is no screaming or waving for help like you may see on television," says Unni. "In less than two minutes under water, a child can lose consciousness, and brain damage can occur after just four to six minutes."
Unni says parents should always outfit young children with a U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation device and refrain from distracting activities such as reading or talking on the phone while supervising children. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends "touch supervision" for kids younger than 5, which means parents or caregivers should always be within arm's length of children.
Henry recommends that families, clubs or churches hire a lifeguard when hosting a pool party or a large event at the lake. She recalls going to the lake with a church youth group, and realized how easily tragedy could have happened -- or been averted, with the presence of a trained lifeguard.
The rec center (684-9780) or the Heart of Tennessee Chapter of the American Red Cross (615-893-4272) can provide referrals to qualified lifeguards. Rec center personnel are available to give safety presentations in the community, even for home pools. A water safety course may qualify you for a discount on your homeowners' insurance if you have a home pool or lakefront property; ask your insurance agent.
The number one thing a person can do for water safety is learn how to swim. That can't be taught in a single morning, but classes and private lessons are available.