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Water Safety: A Matter of Minutes

August 2015

Minnesota earned its nickname for something so obvious it calls for a closer look. There’s a lot of water here. And not just lakes, rivers and wetlands. The landscape also includes countless pools, parks and aquatic attractions. Beautiful? Fun? Inviting? Absolutely. But it can also be dangerous. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, there are 10,000 and 1 good reasons to stay safe near water. One moment can change everything.

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and under.

In 70 percent

of child drownings,

one or both parents

were nearby.

Emmette Richardson, tragically, knows that moment. His son drowned in their apartment pool in April 2014. Richardson was there, but in the seconds it took to pull the boy from the deep end of the pool, enough time had passed that resuscitation efforts failed. Richardson, though, has a consistent reply for anyone who wants to avoid water altogether.

“Kids should not be kept away from water,” he states. “We live in Minnesota. We have to be comfortable near water. I moved to Minnesota from Liberia, where swimming isn’t a regular thing. I tell people, learn how to swim. Learn water safety. Even if a lifeguard is there, stay close to your kids so you can be a second set of eyes.”

Swimming pool with deck chairs
Water warning sign


Sam Carolus agrees. She’s the program and administrative coordinator for Abbey’s Hope, a Minnesota-based foundation focused on safer pools and kids. Abbey’s Hope is also a member of the Minnesota Water Safety Coalition, an advocacy group providing public education for water safety.

Carolus says, “People think drownings are noisy, that they’ll hear screams and shouts or see arms and legs thrashing. That’s not the case. They’re silent. Again and again we hear, ‘I turned my back for a second.’ That’s all it takes. You can’t depend on your ears to know if someone is in trouble.”

And when Richardson considers standard emergency response equipment — from shepard’s crooks to throw rings — he makes an important point. “The telephone is safety equipment, too. At a pool, look around and see if there’s a phone that auto-dials 911. It could be even faster than finding a cell phone, and anyone can pick it and make the call.”

Hennepin County Public Health maintains oversight on 500 pools and 31 beaches, regularly inspecting equipment and water quality and working with owners and operators to maintain safety standards. The county also supports the ongoing efforts of the Minnesota Water Safety Coalition in all three phases of its public outreach: pool/water safety, boating safety and ice safety.

“Minnesota has very strong laws regarding water safety, among the best in the nation,” Carolus concludes. “But staying safe ultimately depends on people watching out for each other and knowing how to use the safety equipment at the pool or beach. Have fun. But recognize and respect the dangers.”

Swimming lessons – for children and adults – are offered by multiple providers across Hennepin County. Many are taught at indoor swimming pools, so are available year-round. Here's a fairly comprehensive roster of providers of swimming and water safety training, with links to further information.

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