/Staying safe this summer
Marta Scythes advocates for water safety and recommends everyone wear a personal flotation device or PFD when on the water. She spoke to a seminar organized by MBC on May 25 at the Stanhope Firefighters Hall. /JENN WATT Staff

Staying safe this summer

By Jenn Watt

Summer for many is the best time of the year in the Haliburton Highlands but it’s also a time when things can go very wrong sometimes fatally.

On Saturday the Maple Beech and Cameron Lakes Area Property Owners Association put on a safety seminar called “Surviving Summer … Safely” which included presentations by Algonquin Highlands fire chief Mike Cavanagh Haliburton County Paramedic Services deputy chief Jo-Ann Hendry and water safety advocate Marta Scythes.

Attendees learned about how to prevent drowning fires heat stroke sunburns and other important safety practices.

Scythes said she was motivated to promote safety on the water after reading about the tragic drowning of two young men on Eagle Lake in 2016. She said six people were in two canoes when the accident happened. Those who made it to shore had personal flotation devices or PFDs. The two men who died did not.

She started doing research and found that the Lifesaving Society of Canada produces an annual report with statistics on drownings in Ontario.

The 2018 report (which reflects data from 2011-2015) shows that 76 per cent of those who drowned were male 24 per cent female. Those 65 and older represent the largest group of those who drowned with 27 per cent (23 per cent for those 20-34 21 per cent for those 50-64).

Most frequently drownings happen in lakes ponds and rivers – 65 per cent.

Scythes said taking precautions such as swimming or boating with others can reduce risk. Above all the most important thing you can do is wear a PFD. In 92 per cent of drownings that happened while boating no PFD was worn according to the Lifesaving Society’s 2018 report.

Algonquin Highlands fire chief Mike Cavanagh advised the group that the most important thing to do in an emergency is call 911 immediately. Depending on where you are when you call for help it can take emergency responders a while to get to you.

He reminded the group that there is no open air burning during the daytime though it is allowed for those who are camping but only for cooking or to warm up. Make sure any fire is thoroughly extinguished.

Batteries should be changed on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors each year; an easy time to do that is when you open the cottage.

“Make sure especially if you’re opening the cottage for the season that you change the batteries as the batteries could have died over wintertime” he said.

Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years a carbon monoxide alarm lasts about seven. An expiration date can be found on the unit. No expiration date? That means it’s an older model and should be replaced.

Cavanagh also pointed out that those on private roads should be diligent in keeping the road clear for emergency vehicles.

“We want to be sure that firstly that it’s wide enough for the fire trucks it’s tall enough for the fire trucks or the ambulance and it can take the weight of that apparatus. So what we’d like to see is six metres wide five metres high … and if there’s any private bridges out there you should have it checked by an engineer to make sure that it will hold a fire truck” he said.

Haliburton County Paramedic Services deputy chief Jo-Ann Hendry talked about a variety of topics including how to avoid heat-related illness and sunburn. She said that direct sun should be avoided between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when it’s the strongest. Staying hydrated wearing light colours and finding a cool place to go when temperatures and humidity are high are key.

A common sign of heat stroke is if the person has stopped sweating she said.

“If you’re still sweating and they’re not there’s something wrong. Call 911” she said.

Dizziness or fainting nausea or vomiting headache rapid breathing and heart rate and extreme thirst are symptoms.

“Changes to behaviour that’s really important [to note]” she said “sometimes younger kids they can’t tell you what’s going on.”

While waiting for emergency response Hendry said you can help by passively cooling the person getting them to a cool place placing cold wet towels on their skin particularly in places that hold heat such as behind the knees and armpits.

Summer storms can lead to power outages that can last for days. It’s important to have an emergency kit prepared . Set aside non-perishable food (and a can opener!) a supply of water first aid kit flashlight and batteries battery-powered or wind-up radio essential medications cash pet food and always keep at least half a tank of gas in the car.