Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Icy enticement hides danger of drowning

On Christmas Day, a TV station announced, "Missouri boy breaks through ice and survives." That boy was lucky. The 1999 winter drowning threat came suddenly when near zero weather suddenly followed spring-like temperatures.

Hunters, fishermen, cattle and children are in special danger of drowning when ice is thin, weak or "rotten." The danger is particularly great in Midwestern states, where the ice conditions can be safe one weekend and hazardous the next.

Consider children: A lake, creek or pond that is frozen over looks like an ice hockey rink to the boys, a figure skating dance area to girls and to a hunter, it is a shortcut when following a wounded deer.

Sportsmen might cross a creek on safe ice and, the next day, find the same place treacherous. If the ice feels spongy under foot or is wet on top, a close look at the surface may reveal little hexagonal patterns. Beware! And if you chop ice and pencil shaped slivers appear, it is dangerous!

Thirsty cattle can lick through an inch or so to get a drink, but without adequate water available they sometimes go out on the ice. A friend saw his herd walking onto the pond and called for help, but the ice collapsed. The men were able to save all but five. Horses are often able to paw through ice to get a drink because of the shape of the hoof.

I taught summer swimming classes in our backyard pool, and I said to each class, "When a parent or teacher is your lifeguard, this is a place to swim. But if no grown-up is with you, it’s just a tank of water, and you must not get in."

To the tiny ones I would say, "Sometimes water can hurt you. You must not get in unless a grown-up calls you by name and says, ‘You may come in with me now, and I’ll watch you.’ "

Is that brainwashing? Yes, a very special kind of brainwashing that I recommend to all parents. Children who are obedient about other things can easily forget when something as fun as playing on ice or in water is before them.

Swimming pool gates should be locked or wired shut in winter as well as during the swimming season. Little children can’t distinguish cold water from swimming temperature until they’re in it. They don’t understand "drowning" and to talk about it scares them. Adults must insist that they obey and not use scare tactics.

Parents should not consider pool decks as play areas. People of any age might enjoy bouncing on a diving board in winter, but a person will be in real trouble if he or she loses balance when the pool is drained — or when it’s not.

Think about a self-rescue plan before it is needed. Here are some suggestions: Take a buddy along, carry a whistle and, for groups of skaters, a 50-foot life rope. Learn to coil and throw the rope as lifeguards do. If ice is cracking or gives a little with each step, get down gently and roll toward safety. If you have skates on, get on your back and dig the skate heels into the ice for a quick trip backward to safety. Give a nonskater a whistle and have him give surprise signals as if there is danger. All on the ice must then get down and proceed to safety.

Playing on ice is fun. But skaters, hunters, parents — all of us — must remember that many drownings are preventable and that they can happen in summer and winter.

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