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Lifeguards Under Scrutiny After Record Drownings

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(credit: CBS) Amelia Santaniello
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – We’ve seen a record number of drownings this year in Minnesota. According to the DNR, 27 people have drowned in incidents not involving a boat. Nine others drowned in incidents involving a boat.

Last year at this time, there were 25 drownings, and some of those accidents happened while lifeguards were on duty.
It doesn’t take long for a fun day at the beach or pool to turn tragic. A water emergency can happen at the blink of an eye.

Mary Barber-Schmitz is an Aquatics expert for the Red Cross.

“We never want to see any drownings, but we’re off to a big start,” she said.

Barber-Schmitz say while lifeguards are on hand to help out in an emergency, their main role is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

“They are looking for people who are weak swimmers, so identifying swimmers who don’t have the skills we’d like them to have to be in the water,” she said.

Lifeguards go through a lot of training to be able to sit in that big chair. They have to be able to swim 300 yards continuously, and tread water for two minutes using just their legs. They also have to take water rescue classes.

“All lifeguards are trained in CPR skills, they’re also trained to use an automated external defibrillator, they’re trained in first aid skills,” said Barber-Schmitz.

But there’s one thing they’re not trained to do, according to Deanna Clasen.

“I felt I was a babysitter at the pool and that’s not what my job is supposed to be about,” said Clasen.

She knows a thing or two about watching the waters.

“I was a lifeguard for six years,” said Clasen. “It is our responsibility to aid in saving their kids, should that situation arise, but it’s also their responsibility to watch their kids as well.”

Emma Woldum says that keeping people safe in the water is a team effort.

“I bring my little sister here all the time and it’s really nice to know that I’m not the only one, like I’m always watching her but there are all of them around that’s making sure she’s safe,” she said.

The Red Cross says Minnesota isn’t the only state seeing an increase in drownings. Other Midwest states are also seeing high numbers.

One thought is many more people are seeking the comforts of the pool or lake due to the earlier heat-up we had in spring and the high temperatures this summer.

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