Agencies teach fifth-graders how to handle water emergencies

Seventeen-year-old Austin Rogers looked on as the students in his group began CPR.

One by one, each fifth-grader knelt down, put both hands on the dummy's plastic chest and began compressions.

"How do you know if you're doing it right?" one asked.

"The ribs break if you're doing it right," said Rogers, a member of the new EMS Explorer's program.

This hands-on demonstration, led by Del Norte Ambulance, was one of many designed to teach Del Norte County's fifth-graders the importance of being safe in the water. More than 300 youngsters fanned out under the shadow of Whaler Island on Thursday, visiting stations manned by representatives from more than 20 agencies in the county.

Becky Barlow, of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and Del Norte County Sheriff's Deputy Devin Perry began planning and organizing Water Safety Day back in October. The goal, they said, was to inundate the area with people in uniforms to try to dispel any fear the youngsters may have of law enforcement or the fire department or any other emergency service provider.

In addition to having demonstrations, folks in uniform acted as chaperones, accompanying the students to each station. This included sheriff and firefighter Explorers as well as CalFire and National Park representatives.

"To even do a tow, kids see those lights flashing and theyget scared," Barlow said. "We want them to know that we're here to help them, not to scare them."

Perry said he and other public safety agencies do water safety presentations in schools throughout the year. Those are geared mainly to kindergarteners, first-, second- and third-graders, he said. Fourth-graders are invited to the Fred Endert Municipal Pool during the year for swim lessons, which has a water safety component, but fifth-graders are often left out, Perry said.

Water Safety Day corresponds to National Safe Boating Week, which occurred last week, Perry said.

"Obviously we're surrounded by water," he said. "We have a need for this type of education in the community."

Tom Phillips, a paramedic with Del Norte Ambulance, thought so too. That's why he brought along his company's CPR dummies, including one of an infant.

"CPR is such a great life-saving thing. It's something they can actually use to save someone's life," he said. "Bystander CPR is a huge life saver."

Phillips said many of the students were shocked to learn that effective CPR sometimes results in a few cracked ribs. But, he pointed out, cracked ribs heal.

"On adults it's a necessary evil," he said.

On the other side of the parking lot, John Williams, a swift water technician with Del Norte County Search and Rescue, stood in his life jacket and helmet. A safety litter lay at his feet, connected to ropes leading from the ground above to Whaler Island.

Williams, who started volunteering after retiring from his job with UPS, and other volunteers showed how the safety litter works. He talked about what kids should do if they're at the river or near the ocean and they see someone in distress.

"They remember quite a bit," he said. "If I'm driving around, kids stop and look. Adults don't stop and look. If we get the kids aware, sometimes the adults can learn from the kids."

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