ISLIP TOWN—Atlantique lifeguards and the town’s water safety supervisor joined town supervisor Angie Carpenter on Friday, June 29 at Byron Lake Pool in Oakdale to highlight valuable pool and ocean safety measures and drowning prevention tips.
The event was quite timely, as it came on the eve of the brutal heat wave that hit this past weekend. It was also held largely in response to a 10-year-old boy who disappeared late last month while swimming in the waters off Long Beach, and a 31-year-old man who vanished a few days later while swimming at the same location.
“It’s not just kids,” Carpenter said in regards to drowning victims.
Drowning is the third-leading cause of unintentional death worldwide, accounting for 7 percent of all injury-related deaths, according to the World Health Organization. There are an estimated 360,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide. Global estimates, however, may significantly underestimate the actual public health problem related to drowning. Children, males, and individuals with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning, the specialized agency of the United Nations reported earlier this year.
Drowning is also responsible for more deaths among children ages 1 to 14 than any other cause except congenital anomalies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among this age group, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths behind motor vehicle crashes.
Kerin Crowley, a retired Sachem art teacher, has run Byron Lake Pool’s swimming lesson program for 40 years. Crowley, who also serves as a Red Cross water safety instructor, says most drowning deaths can be avoided.
Byron Lake Pool, which is open to residents and non-residents alike, offers parent and child swimming lessons.
Crowley advised all boaters to wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets. She also said that children need to “respect the water,” while adults need to know how to respond to emergency situations quickly.
Rich Specht, a local water safety advocate, also shared a personal story during last week’s event. Specht’s son Richie (Rees) drowned shortly before Hurricane Sandy struck. While the adults were preparing for the storm, 22-month-old Richie wandered into his Sound Beach backyard pond and drowned in 18 inches of water.
Specht believes it wasn’t the drowning itself that killed his son, but rather his own lack of knowledge about how to respond.
After the tragedy, Specht and his wife, Samantha, founded a memorial scholarship and an awareness campaign called ReesSpecht Life, dedicated to promoting acts of kindness. The primary way of doing this is through ReesSpecht Life Cards, which are handed out, primarily in high schools, with the hope that recipients will carry out an act of kindness, thus creating a chain reaction. Over 240,000 cards have been distributed, according to the organization’s website.
Prior to his career as a public speaker and advocate for kindness, Specht was a science teacher for 15 years at Great Hollow Middle School in Nesconset. In 2014, he also published the award-winning children’s book, “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness.” All book proceeds go to the foundation’s scholarship fund, which also stresses the importance of water safety.
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