Talk to your children about safety around ice

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A local resident did a good deed on January 13, and had a reminder in the process about the importance of safe behaviour around bodies of water, particularly in the winter months, and particularly for young children. 

The Kemptville man wished to remain anonymous, but he shared his story with the Times. “This very minor incident only came about because I saw young kids tobogganing on a hill that ended on ice covered water, and I knew the ice was thin at the edges where the water was running,” the man said. “The wind blew their sled from the bottom of the hill onto the ice, and then blew it into the water, where it was carried downstream a little way and then got stuck on a rock. I could see the kids at the edge debating whether to go on the ice.”

The good Samaritan walked along partially submerged rocks in the shallow creek – which feeds the South Branch just north of Parkinson Street – and retrieved the child’s sled. His large boots kept his feet dry until one foot slipped off a rock, causing water to fill his boot. After regaining his footing and carrying on, the man managed to retrieve the sled which was about 15 feet from shore. 

The man has learned the hard way over the years about the dangers of open water. “Having fallen through the ice three times when I was younger, I am aware how cold the water is and how quickly it saps your strength,” he said. “The danger is obvious: if a small kid had attempted this, they could have fallen into the water entirely, and had a much harder time regaining their feet. In the end, I would rather get my feet soaked than have a kid drown in cold water.”

The friendly neighbour considers it a blessing that he happened to be walking his dog at the time that he noticed the children missing their sled. He feels that any adult would have helped the same way, but that the situation demonstrates the importance of teaching children never to consider venturing out into water unsupervised, regardless of the time of year, but certainly not when ice is involved. In this case, the children’s mother was aware of the situation and was there to help as well. 

“She did say that the kids’ father had advised them to build a wall at the creek edge to prevent this scenario, but they had not,” the good Samaritan added. In this snowy, chilly sledding season, parents should remind their children about the dangers of hills with water at the bottom. Parents may not give it a second thought when their children ask to go sledding around town with friends, so it makes sense to have this particular safety discussion as a precautionary measure. 

According to the Life Saving Society of Canada, about 35% of all drownings in Ontario happen between October and April, when there is no intention of going swimming. This can occur when a person falls through ice, especially since cold water reduces a person’s ability to swim, and can cause rapid hypothermia leading to cardiac arrest. 

The Society reminds anyone engaging in winter sports on ice to be sure of the safety and thickness of the ice before venturing out. Local bait shop or resort owners can often provide this information. The Society also asserts that ice thickness and safety cannot be determined simply by looking at the ice, since there are many factors at play. If you do fall through the ice, you are advised to:

  1. Not panic – the clothes you’re wearing will trap air and keep you buoyant.
  2. Turn toward the direction you came from and place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface.
  3. Kick your feet and try to push yourself forward on top of the unbroken ice on your stomach like a seal.
  4. Once you are lying on the ice, don’t stand up. Roll away from the break until you’re on solid ice.

Despite these guidelines, children and teens should be reminded never to play on or near ice or bodies of water for any reason, except when in the care of a responsible adult who has done due diligence on the safety of the situation. 

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