Submitted by Philip Prud’homme
Executive director, FLIP
For many islanders, warmer weather means water weather. But as people hit the seas for sailing, kayaking, fishing, and (gasp!) even swimming, there are important safety measures to consider. Recently, Friends of Lopez Island Pool (FLIP) talked with Lopez Island Fire Chief Adam Bigby about water safety in the islands and how we can ensure our community’s well-being, in and around the water.
A BIG thank you to Chief Bigby for his interest in and support of the pool. With drowning the leading cause of death in children under 4 and the second cause of death in those aged 5 to 15, being able to swim is a life skill that can truly save lives!
What water-safety issues do you feel are most important?
Bigby: People often don’t take into account their swimming skill level—they overestimate their abilities and that gets them into trouble. It doesn’t take much to get yourself into a tough situation. In ponds and especially our lakes, it’s easy to get tangled up. Then you struggle, then you’re tired out, and you still have to get back to shore.
People tend not to swim in pairs but in an emergency, you need to have someone there to start CPR immediately. Drowning is definitely something you can come back from. But every second counts, so when you have to call first responders, it’ll be minutes before CPR can even start. And every second is critical.
Life preservers are important to water safety in the Sound (whether on a boat or not), and especially if you have limited skills, but ad-hoc flotation devices can be a problem. I’ve seen kids grab a piece of driftwood from the beach and use it to swim out into the middle of a bay. If whatever the kid is holding onto gets kicked away from them, they might have a hard time getting back onto it; then there’s struggle, and now they’re tired out—and that can become a dangerous situation quickly. I’m actually surprised we don’t see more drownings as a result.
What are the essential water-safety basics to teach kids?
Bigby: I was surprised to learn only 8% of Lopez kids can get to safety in water over their heads. Even if kids have the skills to be able to swim far enough to get to safety, they might not have the confidence to do so. A community pool gives kids an opportunity to practice and build confidence; the knowledge that they can, in fact, swim and, in the worst case, they can simply float. Experience in the water is essential to learning to swim and building the confidence they need. Kids are fish when given the opportunity—they really take to the water when they have the opportunities to learn.
What’s your vision for how your team/coworkers will be able to use the Swim Center?
A community pool on Lopez would make it possible for us to do our water-rescue training in a controlled environment. Right now, by law, we cannot enter the water because we do not have the necessary official water-rescue certification that includes monthly special operations training. We do train annually at Odlin Park because we need to know how to use the equipment. The Sherriff’s department has a boat on Lopez for water rescues. The Lopez Island Fire and EMS Department intends to use the Swim Center to train emergency responders in lifesaving skills and water rescue.
CPR is a big deal; it saves lives. The Swim Center will be a natural place to promote CPR classes and teach water safety. People will be coming to the pool regularly, so there will be an opportunity to let people know of the importance of CPR and water safety. Our community reach at the fire department is limited, but when folks come to the Swim Center, we can engage them: “Hey, you can save a life by learning CPR.”
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Bigby: A community pool will be a great addition to Lopez Island. Kids learning how to swim in a safe environment is important, but the other benefits are also important. We really need a facility like this for the entire community; even other islanders and visitors will have access to the Swim Center.
Friends of Lopez Island Pool’s vision is to bring greater health, water safety, and community to all the people of San Juan County by building a sustainable swim center. The all-ages, year-round nonprofit facility will feature a 25-yard, four-lane saltwater lap pool and a 24-by-38-foot superheated therapy/learning pool. FLIP has currently raised 66% of the funds needed for the Swim Center and invites all community members to support this vital facility that will serve islanders and visitors alike. For more information, visit www.lopezislandpool.org.