PUBLISHED: 1:50 PM on Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Teaching America to swim
American Red Cross of Southeast Alaska
Swimming for fun is a relatively new idea. The first municipal pool in the United States was built in 1887, at a time when more and more Americans also found themselves on the waters for both recreation and transport. Over the next few decades, the result was an alarming loss of life by drowning.

By 1910, the rate of death by drowning in the United States was 10.4 persons per 100,000. A former newspaper man named Wilbert E. Longfellow established the National Red Cross Life Saving Corps in 1914.

The first Life Saving Station opened in Pablo Beach, Florida, and others followed. The flamboyant Longfellow, known as the Commodore and nicknamed "the amiable whale," traveled the countryside with his aquatic pageants featuring swimming, water safety and rescue techniques.

The goal: for "bathers to be swimmers and swimmers to be lifesavers."

In just a few years, the Red Cross was widely recognized as the authority on water safety. When soldiers needed training in lifesaving during World War I, it was the Red Cross that taught them. Before long, the Red Cross offered intensive training schools featuring first aid, lifesaving and water safety for camp counselors and recreation personnel.

Changing with the times

Much has changed in the past century, but water presents the same hazards-and with the creation of new water recreation options such as home swimming pools, water parks and spas, additional worries. Yet in our hectic times, water also presents wonderful opportunities for relaxation and recreation.

Today, the Red Cross helps keep people safe in and around the water with our learn-to-swim, water safety and lifeguarding programs. We are the leading national provider of lifeguard training, with an innovative course that prepares participants for the rigors of lifeguarding.

Today's lifeguards learn much more than the rescue techniques of the Commodore's days.

In addition to first aid and CPR training, they may learn to use an automated external defibrillator and about special hazards specific to the type of environment-waterfront, pool, waterpark-in which they intend to work. Sound decision making is also emphasized.

Nearly four million people, most of them children, learn how to stay safe around water or how to swim each year through their local Red Cross. Our Longfellow's Whale Tales curriculum gives teachers, parents and other adult leaders a simple and fun way to teach young children the basics of being safe around water.

In Community Water Safety, children learn how to stay out of trouble when participating in water sports, whether they are at a lake, water park, pool or other watery places. And don't forget our learn-to-swim classes.

General water safety tips

If you haven't taken a swimming or water safety course lately, perhaps you'd like a short refresher on basic water safety:

• Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to learn to swim. Always swim with a buddy; never swim alone. The American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. To enroll in a swim course, contact your local pool. Swim in supervised areas only.

• Obey all rules and posted signs.

• Watch out for the "dangerous too's" - too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.

• Don't mix alcohol and swimming. Alcohol impairs your judgment, balance, and coordination, affects your swimming and diving skills and reduces your body's ability to stay warm.

• Pay attention to local weather conditions and forecasts. Stop swimming at the first indication of bad weather.

• Know how to prevent, recognize and respond to emergencies.

Staying safe in and around water helps to keep our water recreation activities fun. Lifeguards are an important part of any water activities and are in high demand especially during the summer.

Here in Southeast Alaska, now is the time to get your training. Then you will be Red Cross Ready for the summer months.

Governed by volunteers and supported by community donations, the American Red Cross of Alaska is dedicated to saving lives and helping Alaskans prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Led by over 1,500 volunteers and 27 employees, last year the American Red Cross of Alaska mobilized relief to over 1,050 Alaskans affected by disaster, trained over 32,000 people in lifesaving skills, taught over 78,500 Alaskans how to be better prepared for disasters, and exchanged more than 4,100 emergency messages for U.S. military service personnel and their families.

For more information about the American Red Cross of Alaska, please visit our Web site at