By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
BUTLER, MERCER COUNTIES —
Hot summer weather often leads to cooling off in the pool or at the beach, but it also means an increased risk of drowning.
"People just don't understand and appreciate the power of water," said Robert Ogoreuc of Wolf Creek Township, who's also president of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and assistant professor in the physical education department at Slippery Rock University.
Ogoreuc, also director of aquatics at SRU and the school's former swimming coach, is an Indiana, Pa., native and graduate of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he was on the swim team.
"That really intrigued me," he said of how that sparked his interest in water safety and drowning prevention.
The father of an 8-year-old girl and 5-year-old son, Ogoreuc is always hit hard by stories like that of Mark Goodrich Jr., a 12-year-old Sharon boy who drowned July 12 in the Shenango River.
"It's very tragic," he said.
But stories like Mark's also push Ogoreuc to urge adults to keep a close eye on children who think swimming is all fun and games.
"The numbers are on the rise this summer," he said of drowning deaths.
The most recent statistics from the state Department of Health show Pennsylvania had 79 drowning deaths in 2010 and 91 in 2009, and his weekly check of various news outlets brings up at least one report of a drowning.
He's really concerned about the inexpensive, portable pools that can be set up at a moment's notice in someone's backyard, along with other hazards like decorative ponds and hot tubs.
"Children are exploratory," Ogoreuc said of how you can't turn your back on kids if water is nearby, even a full bathtub or five-gallon bucket.
Like the Fort Lauderdale-based National Drowning Prevention Alliance, he's an advocate for a three-pronged approach to water safety and drowning prevention: safer water, safer swimmers and safer response.
A big part of that is making sure children understand the dangers of water and always having adult supervision. Ogoreuc encourages "touch supervision," meaning get in the water with your kids and stay close enough to grab them if need be.
And it's never too soon to put your children in swimming lessons, commonly offered by the American Red Cross, YMCA or other community-based groups, he said.
But adults can drown, too.
"There are many adults that don't know how to swim. It's never too late to get started," Ogoreuc said.
Michael Schultz, 31, of Lower Burrell accidentally drowned in the Allegheny River Wednesday night after falling off a pontoon boat near Pittsburgh, according to the Associated Press on Friday.
Witnesses tell police Schultz had been partying with friends before he got onto the boat, and that there was alcohol on the boat from which he fell overboard, though authorities aren't sure if that was a factor. The victim's family says he wasn't a good swimmer and witnesses say a friend who dove into the river wasn't able to rescue Schultz before he went under water.
Pool owners need to be responsible and take extra precautions by securing the area around the water with a four-sided fence and latched gates, or even install a pool alarm.
Don't leave toys floating in the pool and steer clear of chlorine dispensers shaped like toys.
Ogoreuc also recommends taking the ladder away from above-ground pools when not in use and appointing a designated adult to keep kids away from pools during parties or other gatherings. Homeowners can even hire a lifeguard to come supervise the pool.
And it doesn't hurt to ask if there's a pool, pond or other body of water at the homes of your children's friends if they'll be visiting, he said.
"It's interesting hearing them talk about water safety," he said of how his own children think safety first.
Do some research while planning the family vacation because the beach you're looking at might not have lifeguards on duty, said Ogoreuc, who also works the summer beach patrol at Ocean City, N.J.
"Moving water can be very dangerous," he said, adding rivers, lakes and streams to the list and reminding people to use designated swimming areas.
The most recent area drowning he could recall happened in July 2010, when Carnez Boone, 14, of Collingdale, Pa., died after jumping off the diving board and had trouble resurfacing while on a field trip at Stoneboro's Lakeside Park Beach.
Ogoreuc's experiences with water rescue and educating others through the Alliance have allowed him to work with some great people, including those who want to get involved with drowning prevention after losing a loved one in a water-related accident. He's also been encouraged by his work at the Jersey Shore with junior lifeguards and would like to see local communities and school districts adopt water safety programs.
For more information about water safety and drowning prevention, visit www.ndpa.org and poolsafely.org
Published Aug. 1, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.