Saving lives across generations
Posted by PA1 Bill Colclough, Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Story provided by Lt. Brian Dykens. Photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon-Paul Rios.
The water was a balmy 80 degrees and calm. A wave rippled across its surface as a small, orange boat sank to the waterline. The four people aboard quickly exited the boat into the water. A voice overhead was instructing them to “conserve energy and float nearby.”
The students in the water floated in their life jackets as they listened to their instructor give safety information. However, these were not your ordinary students, and this was no ordinary class.
The training consisted of various topics such as water survival, proper life jacket wear and cold water immersion. There was also important classroom training that consisted of life jacket, communication and signaling devices laws, survival training and cultural awareness. The training the students received will allow them to teach Alaska’s youth important water and boating safety topics.
“My main goal during this training was to ensure our people are well trained in various forms of water survival and grasp its importance,” said Mike Folkerts, recreational boating safety specialist for the 17th District. “We travel all around Alaska visiting rural villages, and it is highly important that when we teach the Kids Don’t Float program, we do it right. Ultimately, given Alaska’s often unpredictable and dangerous weather, knowing these techniques can result in life or death.”
The Kids Don’t Float program began in Homer, Alaska, in 1996 and was developed to address Alaska’s high child and youth drowning rates. It is a collaborative effort between the 17th District, state of Alaska Office of Boating Safety, state of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Section of Community Health and EMS and other local and tribal agencies.
“We partner very closely with the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska, the Alaska State Troopers, tribal entities and local governments,” said Kelli Toth, education specialist for the state of Alaska’s Office of Boating Safety. “Alaska has a lot of coastline and water so the child can benefit directly from the boating safety information we provide.”
The award-winning program includes life jacket loaner stations located throughout the state. The educational component allows instructors to teach children water safety, cold water survival and life jacket skills in a classroom or a pool. Those in attendance now hope their new skills can help save lives throughout Alaska. One member of the class was particularly interested in taking what he observed into the lower 48.
“I want to take this program back and start it with the kids in the Coast Guard’s Seventh District,” said Bruce Wright, recreational boating safety specialist for the 7th District, which consists of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico. “This program was started in Alaska and has such a great reputation, and I want to mirror it in our district.”
To date, 28 lives have been saved as a result of the Kids Don’t Float program.