What Should You Do If Your Child Is Swept Away by Rushing Water? A Coast Guard Member Explains
STAYING WATER SAFE
Harrowing stories of parents drowning after jumping into rushing water to save their children have made headlines this summer. PEOPLE spoke with Lt. Keric Allen of the Coast Guard 8th District Commander Center, who runs search and rescue operations for the Gulf Coast, about staying safe if a child falls into water.
"We've recently seen more cases of parents dying trying to save their children," Allen tells PEOPLE. "So many lives can be saved if water safety procedures are understood and taken."
Continue reading for Allen's top water safety tips for parents.
"Parents should immediately call 911. The Coast Guard has a good working relationship with 911 dispatch centers, so we frequently get calls from 911 operators about people trapped in water. We are properly trained in these types of rescues and have the best chance of saving your loved one," explains Allen. "It's also not a bad idea to keep your local Coast Guard number in your phone in case of emergency."
MAKE A SCENE
While waiting for emergency responders, parents can attempt their own rescues in safe and appropriate ways. "Look for something to throw to your child like a cooler, piece of wood, a life jacket," says Allen. "Or signal to boaters in the area. Do anything to grab people's attention, start making a scene because the more people you can attract to help you, the more eyes you have on your child."
KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR CHILD
"Coast Guard is trained to keep their eyes on the person in the water, it's important to never look away," says Allen. "Because the second you look away, a wave comes or water rushes over them. Always maintain a visual on them, it's especially helpful if a rescue boat comes by or a helicopter flies over when you can point to where they are. "
TRY TO FLOAT
What if a parent does jump into rushing water to save their child? "I'm a parent, I get it. Your first instinct might be to just jump in the water and save your own child," says Allen. "We don't recommend this, but if you do there are some guidelines." Allen recommends finding something that could help both parent and child float before jumping in. "A cooler or a life jacket," he says. "Or tie yourself to something and have have someone on shore hold it before going in."
After a rescue, whether a child is conscious or unconscious, parents should immediately call EMS or first responders if they haven't already. "CPR should be administered if a child is unconscious," says Allen. "Parents should be familiar with CPR." And what if a child is conscious? "Still have EMS come and check them out," says Allen, who warns of the dangers of dry drowning. "Everything may look great, but you never know what internal complications have occurred after water indigestion."
To prevent tragedies in the water, parents are also encouraged to bring life jackets to the beach or to go swimming in rivers. "Parents just need to be aware if there's not a life guard on duty," explains Allen. "They need to ask, who is the responder if something were to happen? If it's me, then what am I capable of doing? What could I bring that might save my child's life?"