Commentary by Sandra Hudson, Public Affairs Specialist
Every day on the job, I learn something new about who we are, what we do and the people who make it all happen. Sometimes I still find myself occasionally standing wide-eyed and thinking, “Really? We do that?”
Just a few weeks ago, I got a call from Asher Alexander, a park ranger at Hartwell Lake, about a story idea to highlight water safety. Asher told me about a man who’s donating his time to life jacket loaner boards after his son and grandson drowned. I asked Asher a few background questions for the piece and realized, at this time, there was an opportunity to tell the story from Asher’s point of view.
He’s been with the Corps for seven years as a park ranger. Just like so many of his co-workers, Asher said he looks back with disbelief on the day he had the harrowing experience of joining the ranks of his counterparts who have pulled a lifeless body from the water.
Asher said he’ll never forget the feeling of complete helplessness on that day in August last year. In a relatively short period after arriving, the team discovered the body of a 47-year-old man in 13 feet of water – only ten feet from shore. Asher was on that boat and told me his instinctive reaction was to shield the body from the view of the media and most importantly, the man’s family.
While Asher’s words were powerful, the most chilling part to me was the realization that this will likely not be the only time Asher will be in this situation. Month after month, especially during holidays like Memorial Day, the number of people who become drowning victims increases along the Upper Savannah River Basin—most of them males between the ages of 18 and 45. Fortunately, we have not recorded any recreation-related fatalities at our lakes yet this year; and we can only hope it stays that way.
Our park rangers spend a lot of time advising visitors about the importance of water safety. They tell guests to always wear a life jacket, whether in, on or around the lakes. And too often, those words go unheeded, and some visitors meet our rangers for one last time. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of encounter our rangers will never forget.
Find out the best ways to protect you and your family this Memorial Day and all season at http://www.nationalsafeboatingcampaign.com/.
Water Safety Tips:
- Always wear a properly-fitted, U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket while in, on, or around the water.
- Avoid alcohol and drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.
- Always swim and boat with a buddy.
- Check for the most current and accurate weather forecast.
- Don’t think you’re safe wading if you don’t know how to swim. You could encounter a drop-off.
- Don’t be tempted to swim across coves. You may not be able to make it back if you realize it’s too far away.
- Operators on boats and personal watercraft should always have their lanyard attached to the kill switch to cut the engine should the craft capsize.