PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROUKRE
Matthew Martighnetti enjoying himself at Breakhart Reservation.
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — As the summer months heat up, swimmers are cautioned to stay safe while they’re trying to stay cool.
“It seems like every year, we’re out there with a drowning or near drowning,” said Saugus Fire Chief Michael Newbury. “When it’s hot, it’s hot. People want to cool down and they head right to the open water. We don’t have eyes on the ground.
“Outside of one beach at Breakheart, people aren’t supposed to be swimming,” said Newbury. “It can be a challenge because we don’t know where people are. We can’t be everywhere.”
Over the past decade, more than half a dozen accidental drownings have occurred in The Item’s coverage area.
In July 2016, Roberto Martinez, 35, was found underwater near rocks at Breakheart Reservation. He had been swimming in an area where “No Swimming” signs were posted, according to the Essex County District Attorney.
A month earlier, 13-year-old Jose Angel Capellan Rodriguez of Lynn drowned at Walden Pond in the Lynn Woods Reservation. Swimming is prohibited at Walden Pond. Following the Breed Middle School student’s death, the Lynn YMCA provided students with a water safety workshop.
Audrey Jimenez, executive director of the Y, said the organization has been providing free swimming lessons to Breed students on Saturdays for the past year. The next session will begin June 19 and run through Aug 27. There is also a free teen class available to all middle- and high school-aged children in Lynn offered on Tuesday and Sundays, she said.
“When most people learn how to swim, one of the first strokes you learn is the backstroke and also how to float on your back,” said Jimenez. “Most people who swim know that if you’re swimming and get tired, the first way to save the energy you have is to float on your back. That’s one of the techniques our swim instructors cover — many students might not have any experience trying to float on their back.”
On Thursday, Jimenez will revisit the middle school to teach the safety workshop to two groups of sixth graders. She will begin by teaching them that they should only swim where a certified lifeguard is present, that they should always be supervised while in the water, and should make sure they know how deep the water is before jumping in.
“When kids are one or two, the things we keep reinforcing are to look both ways before crossing the street, or not to put their hands near a dog’s mouth,” Jimenez said. “What we don’t say is ‘when you’re near water, this is what you do, you never go near water without a grownup, you put on a life vest when you get on a boat.’ We have to drill that in just like we say ‘don’t step in front of a moving car.’”
The Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Regional Director Tom Walsh said that swimming outside the roped off area is prohibited. Swimming is prohibited at the park’s other pond.
“We cover the American Red Cross’ standards,” Walsh said. “As a general rule of thumb, we ask parents with kids, even with a guarded area, to always keep an eye on their kids, not just for water safety but safety in general. The park is a busy place.”
Lifeguards are on duty during weekends until Father’s Day weekend, when guard coverage is increased to seven days per week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Between six to 10 lifeguards patrol the beach area at a time, he said.
Melissa Lambert of Malden was swimming with two of her four children Monday afternoon. While she’s teaching her two younger children not to enter the water by themselves, not to go in deeper than they can touch, and to keep their faces above the water, she’s teaching her older two not to pass the ropes and to always stay in her sight.
“The older ones don’t go swimming past the first rope without telling me,” she said. “That’s the hardest part right now. It’s scary when you hear about the kids who drown up here.”
Should someone witness a drowning, Newbury said it’s important to remember the last place the person was seen swimming to assist first responders in their search. He asks residents to call for help immediately to improve the chances of successfully rescuing the person.