Every spring, as the rivers fill with cold, fast water and the temperature warms up, drownings, near-drownings and other water crises pop up around the Inland Northwest. To get a perspective on water safety, we spoke last week with Darren Prouty, a volunteer diver with the Spokane County Water Rescue Team, a longtime recreational boater and diver, and a second-generation owner of Precision Propeller. This is an edited version of the conversation.
Q:Is there a single most common mistake people make on the water?
A:Alcohol is involved in most mistakes. Another one is not wearing proper attire and just not knowing their surroundings.
Q:If you could command the attention of the region’s 16-year-olds for just a second, what would you tell them?
A:This water is very non-forgiving. With the cold and the current, it’ll take you by surprise. Even the most trained person. Your parents don’t want to lose their loved ones.
Q:Is this the riskiest time of year, or does every season have its risks?
A:Springtime, people are coming out of the woodwork to use the water. Of course, winter is one of the scariest times of the year, because people are trying to approach out on ice. And ice is very unpredictable, especially if there’s any sort of a current. Just stay off the ice, for the most part. Some of your ice fishermen know what they’re doing. Some don’t and have just been lucky all these years.
Q:Are most people good judges of their own swimming ability?
A:No. Most people think they’re a lot better than they are. When you get cold water, a sense of panic, and the current, one gulp of that water and you’re going to spasm and you’re possibly going to drown quite quickly.
Q:Is there a rescue or a recovery that was the most difficult for you?
A:The children are the very hardest. Nobody wants to pull an individual out of the water, but just searching for a child is a bit of a head game, wondering whether you really want to be the one to find them, though you do want to find them for the family.
Q:We had a drowning of an experienced kayaker recently, someone who knew the river and had the right equipment. On some level, is there an inherent danger to water sports that you can’t eliminate with knowledge or equipment?
A:You get tossed in this water and that current will humble you very fast. Even with the best of gear, you can be sucked under. But a lot of people make the mistake of taking that life jacket off, because it’s hot or whatever. You go in without that and you’re going to become a victim.