First responders stress swimming safety after 3 drownings in East TN

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – There have been at least three drownings in East Tennessee this month, two of which were just this week.

On Thursday, Knox County first responders recovered a man’s body. Investigators say Joshua Fritts, 22, jumped off a cliff into Melton Hill Lake and didn’t resurface. Early Thursday morning, a 13-year old girl died after accidentally drowning at Peery’s Mill Dam in Walland.

About two weeks ago, the Claiborne County Sheriff’s office reported a 5-year old little boy drowned in Powell River. These tragedies spar the question, what can we do to prevent this from happening?

The CDC says three children die every day because of drowning and parents play a key role in protecting little ones.

Audra Downs brought her two boys to The Cove at Concord on Friday and while they’re good swimmers, Downs has them wear life jackets.

“I’m always a little on edge, but we try to teach them water safety and get them into swimming lessons, so they know what to do if there’s an emergency,” she said.

The Ford family has similar rules. Becky Ford brought her three granddaughters to The Cove and says she keeps a close eye on them while checking their life jackets.

“Because I have some who are a little more shy about the water. But I have one who will get right out there before I know it. So, I especially like her to have something on,” she said.

There are similar signs at East Tennessee lakes and uncontrolled waterways warning people that they’re swimming at their own risk because a lifeguard is not on duty.

“You need to look out for yourself, watch your children, watch for other adults, limit your consumption of alcohol any time you’re around water,” said Deputy Chief John Whited with the Knox County Rescue Squad.

Whited says drowning doesn’t look like you’d expect.

“Most of the time they just slip under. A lot of times you will not see the struggle, they will just disappear under the water,” he said.

There are a few signs to look out for:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy, unable to focus
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Not using legs while vertical

“Four to six minutes. You can drown very fast without oxygen, your brain starts to die,” said Whited.

First responders say it comes down to thinking about safety, watching and staying alert. Whited says families should sign up for swim lessons, first aid lessons, as well as CPR instruction.

When it comes to backyard pool safety, the CDC stresses the importance of installing a four-sided isolation fence with a self-closing and self-latching gate. This helps keep kids away from the pool when they’re not supervised.

Experts say you can install alarms on doors leading to the pool area, as well as keep rescue equipment close by in case of an emergency.

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