OTTUMWA — Two area drowning deaths in two weeks have authorities focused on the topic of water safety.
The Ottumwa Fire Department's Master Firefighter Bill Keith has trained with watercraft and performed multiple river rescues. This week, he said, he was sharing tips in general terms. He, like other officials talking to the Courier, said they were not referring to either of the local tragedies or recent accidents around the state.
"The biggest thing to do for safety is to wear a life jacket on the water," Keith said.
It may not seem like fun, but it allows fun because it can reduce anxiety over drowning.
"An approved floatation device," he said. "That's how you know you're going to float."
In many situations, children must have them. But adults should remember how fast the center of a river moves — and how fast you can get there, Keith said. Swimming close to shore? That can change.
"In 30 seconds, you can be in the middle of the river," Keith said, "caught in the main channel, and suddenly you're heading downriver."
Yes, pointed out Wapello County Sheriff Mark Miller, people are generally boyant.
"It's because of the lungs, air in the lungs," he said. "If you have the breath knocked out of you [by, for example] hitting the water, you are not going to float."
Like the OFD, the sheriff's office maintains a multi-purpose boat. One of the effective devices they use, both rescuers said, can also be used on your boat.
"You must have a throwable floatation device," said Keith. "You can have six or eight life jackets on the boat. [But] it's often the [throwable ring with rope] that will be the difference between life and death."
"You've got to have respect for that water," said Miller. "Have people around watching out for one another."