A girl in my life saving class brought in a clipping from her local Florida newspaper showing a man in raging floodwaters, dressed in suit coat, shirt and tie. He was holding on to a spare wheel from a vehicle! His truck went down in the rushing waters, but he was saved from drowning because his spare wheel, loose in the back of his truck, floated, and the current brought it within his reach.
Itís true that a drowning person will grab at a straw. That spare wheel was a welcome straw that morning on his way to work. He clung to the wheel until he was rescued by someone in a boat.
That photo set the students and me off on a campaign to teach everyone who would listen that there were great life preservers in the trunks of cars.
"About 8,000 people drown each year, and perhaps our efforts will reduce that number," I said. "If all of us spread the word, eventually many lives can be saved. If every adult in this country knows to use his or her spare wheel to safely rescue a drowning person, or if even one life is saved, our efforts will have paid off!"
We got a spare from the back of my car and practiced swimming out with the tire and, after resting, bringing the "drowning" person back to safety; sometimes the victim was even able to help. Sometimes a passing boat or canoe would toss a rope and tow both persons to safety. We tried it all. We discovered that the wheel, with its pressurized air, could even float more than two people.
My husband, Chub, got us an old tire, tube and wheel to keep at the college pool for practice. We tied one end of a long rope to the tire and tied the other end to a stationary object so we could pretend to rescue in strong current. We used it in water safety demonstrations for swimming classes, for Boy and Girl Scout groups, the American Red Cross, the Safety Council and insurance groups. We spread the word about this remarkable lifesaving device to anyone who would listen. On one occasion, a student who didnít know my name referred to me as "that woman who is always rolling a spare wheel around on campus!"
Readerís Digest magazine bought and published my article, "Your Spare Tire May Prevent A Drowning," which was also published by the National Safety Council. I used the wheel in training lifesavers and water safety instructors from then on.
We still keep an aired-up tire at our home pool and encourage people swimming there to play with it and practice rescues. One of our favorite things is to challenge swimmers to push the wheel to the bottom. No matter how many get around it, it is too buoyant for them to do it!
There have been many trickle-down effects of that student having brought the Florida clipping to my class all those years ago. In this instance the student taught the teacher - and the teacher is still using the wheel to promote safety.