Drowning Task Force Urges Care Labor Day Weekend

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“If it can happen to a lifeguard, it reminds us how vulnerable we really are.”

Referencing the July 6, 2014, fatal drowning of Newport Beach Lifeguard Ben Carlson while he was attempting to rescue a man in rough surf, the city’s Chief Lifeguard, Rob Williams, reminded those in attendance at Wednesday’s Orange County Task Force on Drowning Prevention, held at Marina Park, that “education and prevention” are the keys to reducing drowning events – not just at the ocean, but in bays, swimming pools, bathtubs, whirlpool spas, ponds, lakes, lagoons, rivers, and channels.

In anticipation of continued warm weather and in preparation for the large crowds expected to jam Newport’s beaches over the Labor Day weekend, the Newport Beach Fire Department invited Rio Olympics Water Polo Gold Medalist Kaleigh Gilchrist, 24, of Newport Beach, to speak at the event.

Newport Beach resident and 2016 Olympics Water Polo Gold Medalist Kaleigh Gilchrist talks about water safety at an Orange County Task Force on Drowning Prevention event on Wednesday. — Screen shot from Orange County Fire Authority video
Newport Beach resident and 2016 Olympics Water Polo Gold Medalist Kaleigh Gilchrist talks about water safety at an Orange County Task Force on Drowning Prevention event on Wednesday.
— Screen shot from Orange County Fire Authority video

Gilchrist, who said that she grew up near the ocean, cautioned that “No matter how good an athlete you are, the ocean is a humbling place. Just be careful!”   

The mood turned somber when the father of an 18-year-old recounted the drowning death of his son.

Struggling to retain composure, Foster Parnell softly said that “You don’t want to go through what my family went through; it took a terrible toll. Make your children aware of the ocean. Pay attention to the warning signs. Never leave your kids alone.”

The Orange County Task Force on Drowning Prevention is a 25-member advisory panel that includes the heads of countywide public health, public safety, government, nonprofit organizations, parents of victims and Olympic medal-winning swimmers.

It was convened in 2015 to develop recommendations on ways to reduce drowning incidents and fatalities in Orange County.

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