Manitoba

Drowning prevention group wants lifeguards on Manitoba beaches

The head of the Lifesaving Society wants to see lifeguards in place at busy public beaches in Manitoba after a man drowned at Birds Hill Provincial Park Saturday.

When 'panic of drowning sets in there’s no ability of the person to cry out,’ Lifesaving Society says

The head of the Lifesaving Society's Manitoba branch wants to see lifeguards in place at busy public beaches in Manitoba. (Don Marce / CBC)

The head of the Lifesaving Society wants to see lifeguards in place at busy public beaches in Manitoba after a man drowned at Birds Hill Provincial Park Saturday.

Carl Shier, the CEO for the Lifesaving Society's Manitoba branch, said summer hot spots like Birds Hill, where a 22-year-old man who immigrated to Winnipeg from Africa drowned Saturday, could use lifeguards and not just beach safety officers.

Jean-Baptiste Ajua is the third person to drown on a public beach in Manitoba in the last three weeks. Two children, who were also newcomers to Canada, drowned in Grand Beach Aug. 1.

"I think it's a mistake that yes they're beach safety officers, but not deployed as lifeguards," Shier said.

The Filmon government got rid of lifeguards on provincial beaches in 1990 after a 14-year-old girl drowned in West Hawk Lake while three lifeguards were having lunch.

Since then, Manitoba has had beach safety officers, who are certified as lifeguards but do not supervise waters.

But the program is now under review following the drownings in Grand Beach.

"It will be important to look at modernizing the beach safety program to make sure we are properly communicating and reaching all members of the public who enjoy our beaches," Minister of Sustainable Development Cathy Cox said Sunday. 

Shier said the officers should be able to supervise waters and intervene during emergencies.

"They would know the methods and how to make a recovery and provide a response that's appropriate to the incident, there's no question about that," he said.

'It doesn't take long for it to happen'

Shier admitted the drowning Saturday was tragic but said he wasn't surprised.

"The water isn't crystal clear. We're not looking at a swimming pool situation here where you can see to the bottom from key positions," he said.

Shier said the second a swimmer starts ingesting water, panic can set in and drowning can occur.

"The process starts in about 10 seconds and concludes in about three minutes," he said. "It doesn't take long for it to happen."

Shier said the best thing for swimmers to do this summer is to keep an eye on one another.

"When the panic of drowning sets in, there's no ability of the person to cry out. Their entire involvement is trying to save their own life."

Focus better on education: province

In a statement released Sunday, the Manitoba government said its beach safety program is focused on education, which includes signage, brochures and buoy lines at public beaches and swimming areas.

"Individuals are responsible for themselves, their families and groups while on provincial park beaches," the statement read. "We encourage families to keep children within arms' reach while at the beach."

A provincial spokesperson said there can be thousands of people on one beach at any given time, meaning providing enough lifeguards would be "almost impossible."

The spokesperson added that 44 beach safety officers work at Birds Hill throughout the summer and have helped retrieve swimmers who were pushed away from the shoreline.

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