Water safety spotlighted at reading program

by Sean Dunlap

Participants in the Franklin County Public Library’s “Oceans of Possibilities” Summer Reading Program for area children learned about personal water safety and had the opportunity to climb aboard the District 5 Fire Department’s Search and Rescue Boat on Thursday, June 23.

Brady Stebbins, who is part of the local fire service, an emergency medical technician and who works with Rural Rapid Response ambulance service, used the opportunity to educate the children in attendance about the proper use of personal flotation devices — often referred to as PFDs or simply life jackets — any time they are on, in or around the water.

“The thing that makes life preservers important is that they float and you don’t,” Stebbins told the audience. “They look like a vest and rely on flotation material, often foam, to create buoyancy and keep your head above water.”

He noted adult PFDs are not meant for and should never be used on children because the size differential could cause the potentially-life saving device to slip off when it is critically needed to keep a young person from drowning.

Stebbins said sizing is the primary difference between adult and children’s PFDs with adult models dependent on chest measurements for a correct fit while a child’s weight is used to determine the correct size of his or her life preserver.

Children’s life jackets are labeled as being for one of three primary categories — infant, child or youth. Infant PFDs are geared to young people between eight and 30 pounds while a child’s PFD is for those in the 30 to 50 pounds range.

A youth PFD is made for young people between 50 and 90 pounds.

Stebbins used those in attendance as models to demonstrate the proper ways to wear life preservers and also talked with the children about the value of remaining calm if they are caught in a situation where they might fall into a body of water of any size without a PFD.

“The natural reaction is to panic, but that is the worst thing you can do especially if someone is trying to rescue you,” he continued. “Being in panic mode puts your life and the life of the person trying to help you at risk because it can drag both of you down. If someone is trying to help and grabs you, let him or her take complete control in bringing you to shore or to a boat.”

Stebbins encouraged children to be observant of their surroundings, seek help immediately from an adult should they see or hear someone in distress on the water and never be without some form of supervision when in proximity to water – whether that be at a pool, pond, stream or river.

“Adults never need to take their eyes off any children who are in and around the water,” Stebbins went on to say. “There is no greater layer of protection than having an adult being attentive to what is going on at all times and act on a moment’s notice.”

That’s important because statistics show drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for children ages 1 to 4 years old and the second leading cause of such fatalities for children from ages 5 to 14.

Stebbins also took the children on a tour of the search and rescue boat parked in front of the building and allowed them to see and touch a wide range of on board equipment, including flotation life rings, backboards for carrying individuals, breathing gear for divers, fire extinguishers and a variety of gear to help first responders in addressing water emergencies.
The pontoon-style boat with a Yamaha outboard motor can carry up to eight responders at any given time and stands ready to assist anywhere in Franklin County should it be needed in an emergency.

“This is the kind of boat you are glad to have at the ready, but hope that you will never be in a situation to need it,” Stebbins said. “We activity trained on the use of this boat prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and hope to get back to using it for more training with what is hopefully a return to some normalcy after the virus even though it is still with us. This boat is one of the most important pieces of equipment we have.”

The lowering of Meadville’s Okhissa Lake reservoir by the United States Forest Service for maintenance has also limited opportunities to use the boat for training purposes, but those improvements are anticipated to be completed in 2023.

The boat and associated rescue equipment are housed at the District 5 fire station, which is located off U.S. Highway 98.