Command Spotlight - Swimming Safety

A Fort Lee family member enjoys a cool swim in the post pool.

FORT WORTH, Texas – I was finishing a long day of lake patrol when I heard a voice over the radio say, “There has been a report of a potential drowning.”

Immediately, my body went numb. All I could think was, “Please don’t let it be true.” At the time, I’d spent four years as a park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, unfortunately, seen the same scenario replayed repeatedly – lives lost from both carelessness around the water and lack of education concerning water safety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional deaths in the United States. It’s estimated that 10 people die each day as a result of drowning. Sadly, a large portion of those victims are would-be rescuers.

Before attempting to rescue someone, always keep in mind Reach, Throw, Row and Don’t Go.

  • Reach. If someone near you is drowning, first try reaching out to him or her with something near you such as a pool toy, branch, fishing pole or anything sturdy. Remember not to lean too far over and keep your feet firmly planted where you are standing to prevent yourself from falling in and also becoming a victim.
  • Throw. If the person is too far out to reach, throw something to them. Make sure the object floats (e.g., an ice chest, life preserver, throw cushion, ring buoy, etc.). If possible, it is best to tie the object to something secure to pull in the victim.
  • Row. If reaching and throwing are not feasible and you have access to a boat, you can row to the victim.
  • Don’t Go. Unless you are a trained professional in water rescue (e.g., a certified lifeguard), never go in after a victim. A drowning person will try to climb on top of the rescuer, forcing them under the water in an effort to stabilize themselves and get air.

There are a few rules everyone should remember when swimming or boating. First, never swim alone. We aren’t invincible, and you never know what will happen. Nobody plans to drown, and it only takes seconds. A drowning person doesn’t make a lot of noise. Try gasping for air and screaming and you’ll see it doesn’t work very well.

Second, know your limits. It only takes enough water to cover a person’s nose and mouth for them to drown. So many times we try to be the cool guy or gal and push or exceed our capabilities. I have seen too many bodies pulled from the water as a direct result of pushing limits and taking unnecessary risks.

The most important thing any of us can remember is to wear a personal flotation device. I have never seen a drowning victim that was wearing a PFD. There are many types of PFDs available for water-based activities. Choosing not to wear one should never be an option. The difference between choosing to use a PFD and going without could be your life. Nobody is waterproof, so always wear your PFD!

Following simple rules and using good judgment around water will save your life and possibly the lives of others. Don’t end up drying out in the morgue.

(This article was published on the website.)

Post Pool Rules

The following temporary pool guidelines are specified in the Fort Lee Family Housing Residential Handbook:

  • Personally owned pools are limited to small wading pools, not to exceed 18 inches in depth and 8 feet in diameter.
  • Residents will ensure an adult closely supervises children utilizing the pools and pools are emptied when not in use.
  • For health and safety reasons, it is recommended that chlorine tablets be added to the water in pools. Any damage to grass areas will be repaired at resident’s expense.
  • Pools must be emptied and properly stored immediately after use and may not remain filled overnight.

The Fort Lee Garrison Safety Office also recommends the following safeguards:

  • A parent or guardian must be present at all times.
  • No horseplay, including pushing other into the pool, running (wet surfaces can be very slippery), and/or dunking someone’s head under the water.
  • Use a high-SPF sunscreen to prevent burns and possible skin damage.
  • Drink water. Swimming does not replace body fluids while out in the sun and heat. It’s important to rehydrate and allow the body to recover from prolonged exposure to the sun.
  • When a storm approaches, get out of the water. This is especially important if you hear thunder – it means the possibility of being struck by lightning already exists.

Knowing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation can be a lifesaver as well. Parents and care-givers of toddlers and small children should know the modified CPR techniques for youths under 12 years old. Certification in this type of CPR is available through the American Red Cross. To search for a nearby training class, visit