Jimmy Austin was an avid fisherman. He loved to spend late summer afternoons on the water practicing his hobby and bringing home fish for the dinner table. Concerned for the next generation, he regularly took foster kids with him to the lake to get them off the couch and to re-introduce them to the great outdoors.
That is, until this past Sunday. Jimmy Austin and his 10-year old foster son drowned on a Lake near Memphis, Tennessee. The 10-year old fell out of the boat and the 61-year old Austin went in after him. Both drown.
A neighbor who saw the incident tried to help, but was too late.
This is a sad story on many different levels. My heart goes out to them. Unfortunately, though, it’s not unique. It’s replayed many times every year. In fact, more than 20 people have drown this year in Montana due to the heavy rains and swollen rivers.
Prepare To Help
As preppers, it’s important to prepare for circumstances where were are at risk. We must be prepared to fend for ourselves in survival situations, to act quickly and decisively to save ourselves or loved ones.
This is just as true for persevering through a job loss as it is for surviving in a week in the wilderness, for living through a weekend without power or adjusting to the end of the world as we know it.
And it’s true for water rescues.
When put into a lifesaving aquatic situation, a rescue that involved the least amount of risk to you is always advisable. Remember: Reach, Throw, Row, Go.
An extremely fatigued swimmer or a beginner who was over confident in his abilities can quickly become distressed, start flailing, and ultimately panic just feet from safety. When a distressed swimmer reaches that point, he desperately wants out of the water. Calm and reasoning have left him. And seeing the edge of the pool or the side of the boat so close only exacerbates his the problem. So close yet so far.
Reaching for the victim from the edge of the water is by far the safest method of rescue. Lie down and reach with your hand. Or find a nearby Shepherd’s Crook, pole, long stick, or even just a towel to extend to the victim.
When reaching with a rigid device like a pole or stick, don’t extend it straight out to him. He has little depth perception that way and may lung toward it and injure himself. Instead sweep the pole toward the victim from his left or right, and tell him to grab it.
Make sure you are squatting with most of your weight on your back foot before the victim touches the pole otherwise he could pull you in.
Often a drowning victim is too far to reach with a handheld device. This is particularly true for open water like lakes and rivers.
If reaching the victim is not possible, your next best option is to throw something that floats to him. Ideally you’ll have a ring buoy or a bag rope to toss. If not, use anything that floats.
To avoid accidentally hitting the victim in the head and accidentally converting him to a passive victim, aim for a point 15 feet behind him. He’ll grab onto the rope or you can pull the ring to him.
As with reaching, make sure you have a low center of gravity before the victim touches the rope. You won’t be of much help if he pulls you into the water.
In open water, the victim may be too far to reach by throwing a rope or other floatation aid. In these cases, the best alternative is to go get them without actually entering the water yourself.
Quickly find a canoe, row boat, or kayak. Time is of the essence here so don’t go a long distance to find the boat. In fact, once a distressed swimmer starts to panic, you usually have less than 90 seconds to reach him.
Once you’ve reached the drowning victim, do not attempt to pull them into the boat; that could capsize you and complicate the rescue. Instead have the victim hold onto the stern and paddle or row him back to safety.
As a last resort, you may have to go after the drowning victim yourself. This is very risky so do not enter into it lightly. More than one would-be hero has inadvertently become a second drowning victim.
If possible, take a floatation aid like a ring buoy or a rescue tube with you when going after a drowning victim. This will make the rescue far easier. You’ll be able to offer the device to the victim and allow him to kick himself to safety. Or if he’s unable to offer assistance, you can pull him in.
If you don’t have something that floats to offer the victim, use a shirt or towel. Most anything will work, although it’s best if the device floats.
Keep in mind that when a person is drowning, he wants nothing more than to get out of the water. The only way to do that is to climb on top of something and you are the only thing around. Drowning victims don’t intend to drown their rescuers but when they start to climb on top of you, they push you under water.
A good rule of thumb is to never let an active victim touch you. Hold one end of the floatation device and give him the other. If he tries to climb up the device to get to you, give it to him. Don’t let him touch you; that’s how rescuers become victims.
Regardless of the method of rescue, once you get the victim to safety tend to his needs. Warm him if he’s cold, reassure him if he’s panicking, or call for professional emergency personnel if the situation requires it.
Keep “Reach, Throw, Row, Go” in mind and hopefully you’ll be better prepared should the need ever arise.
By the way, as someone who is a certified life guard and who teaches water rescue techniques, I’d highly encourage you to consider taking a weekend course in Water and Boating Rescue and in CPR. You’ll learn a lot and the life you save may be yours or one that’s dear to you.