July 14, 2008

Be Water Wary

By Bethania Palma

The 18-year-old and the 73-year-old were lucky.

Both men were looking for relief from hot weather last week and nearly lost their lives in water-related incidents.

The youngster made the mistake of thinking a good place to cool off and have fun was in a low-head dam at the base of the Foothills, while the elderly man was cooling off in the pool of an apartment complex in the 1100 block of Fairview Avenue in Arcadia.

While people are heading to the water in droves as the summer season kicks into full gear, fire department officials are gearing up for another season of water-related emergencies.

"It happens so quickly," said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Ron Haralson. "Supervision is key, so is knowing CPR."

Young children are especially vulnerable but as Tuesday's near- misses illustrate, anyone can fall victim.

According to fire officials, drowning is the leading cause of death in children under 5 years old. Most child drowning deaths occur in a familiar pool, while half take place at the child's own home.

The vast majority occur during a brief lapse of parental supervision - usually less than five minutes, officials said.

People need to stay out of restricted, unsafe areas, officials said.

Fire Capt. Eric McKellar, who works out of Fire Station 97 off Sierra Madre Avenue, said every year, several people drown at one of the 16 low-head dams between Mountain Cove in Azusa, and the Santa Fe Dam.

"Right now the water's probably 8 to 10 inches deep," he said, pointing to water rushing over the man-made ledge. "But it's enough to knock you off your feet."

And that's all it takes.

When victims reach the bottom, he said, the water current sucks them under so violently to rocks and concrete below that rescue workers often find victims' bodies naked downstream.

McKellar said every year he hears about or witnesses people getting caught under water at one of the low-head dams. Usually, he said, the cases end badly.

"My advice is go to Santa Fe Dam or one of the designated swimming areas," he said. "Stay out of these areas."

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