Editorial: Taking aim at tragedy

Once again it has happened: Authorities said a 20-year-old man drowned Wednesday in Silver Lake inside Breakheart Reservation as a holiday break from routine and sweltering temperatures drew people to local ponds.

A man drowned yesterday in a Westwood pond and tragedy struck last year when drowning claimed another life in Lynn. Drownings, like fire fatalities, are seemingly preventable deaths, but there appears to be no way to guarantee water and fire danger won’t take lives.

People are urged to dispose of cigarettes carefully and avoid using candles and frayed extension cords, but fire deaths still occur. Summer’s rising temperatures arrive with warnings about the need for supreme adult vigilance around swimming pools and a renewed call for expanded efforts to encourage swimming lessons and aquatic emergency response training.

The reality is that a firefighter cannot be stationed at every home and a lifeguard can’t accompany every swimmer into the water. Practical approaches to safe swimming include swimming in groups, never alone, as well as swimming within designated areas within sight of lifeguards and avoiding swimming tired or impaired.

But practical suggestions are like encouraging words — they may or may not fall on deaf ears.

Drownings have occurred within sight of other swimmers just as fire fatalities have occurred even as desperate family members try to rescue the victim.

Designated swimming areas aren’t surrounded by barbed wire. It is ultimately up to the person in the water to decide if they are going to obey rules governing a particular body of water or take the same kind of risks skiers take when they go beyond boundary markers placed on the sides of slopes.

To its credit, the Lynn Fire Department has made a concerted effort for more than four years to reduce, if not end, deaths by fire through an education campaign incorporating billboards featuring fire safety posters drawn by children and smoke alarm installations.

Could a similar campaign keep swimmers safe? A major publicity effort at the city and town level as well as state level could provide practical water safety advice and safe swimming warnings. Lifeguards stationed at pools and ponds could funnel swimmers through a safety zone, briefly questioning people on their swimming ability and handing out “do and don’t” literature. The water safety campaign could be paired with a comprehensive effort to ensure children learn to swim.

All of this sounds practical and sensible, but is it ultimately workable in a society where people move freely and enjoy broad latitude when it comes to policing their own behavior? The answer is, probably not.

But it is realistic to say that even partial efforts to broadcast safe swimming awareness and the need for swimming instruction could make a difference between saving lives and allowing drownings to continue as a grim early summer occurrence.


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