(Reformer file photo)
(Reformer file photo)
Saturday July 6, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- With temperatures soaring into the high 80s and low 90s, people are searching for the perfect places to cool off, whether that's in the West, Rock or Williams rivers, the culvert on East Putney Brook, along the Whetstone Brook or in the North Branch Brook.

Then there are various other assorted swimming holes, some of them not so legal, that people find themselves attracted to, often resulting in calls to rescue services, such a recent incident at Twin Falls on the Saxtons River.

Though there hasn't been a swimming-related fatality in Windham County in the past two years, on July 5 the Vermont State Police SCUBA Team along with Middlebury Technical Rescue worked together to recover the body of Steven Orvis, age 26 of Bristol, after he was swept over Bartlett Falls on the New Haven River. And on July 2, a teenager drowned while swimming in the Stevens Branch in Barre. In June, a 20-year-old drowned in the Connecticut River near Hanover, N.H.

Because of the rainy weather the region has been experiencing, rivers and streams are much higher and more dangerous than they usually are this time of year, noted the Vermont State Police in a press release urging swimmers to be safe while cooling off.

"Extreme caution should be used when doing any activity around a waterway and when in doubt stay away from the water."

The Vermont Department of Health also urged people to use extreme caution and stay away from swift moving water.


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"While swimming is an excellent way to escape high heat and humidity, frequent flash flooding has made many swim holes, rivers and streams unpredictable and dangerous," noted DOH in a press release.

"The recent drownings in Barre and Bristol are tragic and we want to reiterate our warning -- many swim areas that are usually not hazardous are now unsafe," stated Health Commissioner Harry Chen, MD. "Even the strongest, expert swimmer can be swept away."

Approximately half of all drowning deaths in Vermont occur in natural water settings such as lakes, rivers and oceans.

The U.S. National Weather Service in Burlington stated swimming holes, rivers and brooks throughout Vermont will continue to exhibit high flows and dangerous currents over the next few days. The Weather Service also cautioned that swollen rivers may be carrying debris such as large branches and trees, which can bring dangers to all recreational water vehicles and swimmers alike.

Brattleboro Fire Department Assistant Chief Peter Lynch said waterways and water bodies in Windham County are still pretty muddy and "riled up from all the rain."

"If you're going to be doing anything around the water, whether that's swimming or boating, you need to be responsible, not only for yourself, but for those around you," said Lynch.

He also warned people that though the skies might be clear, it's important to keep an eye on clouds forming above their heads.

"There's a risk of thunderstorms everyday for the foreseeable future," said Lynch. "If you can hear the thunder, you could be close enough to be effected."

One of the most important things you can do when on the water, said Lynch, is to be wearing a life jacket, even if the water doesn't appear dangerous.

Lynch also warned people about being out in the sun too long, which can lead to heat exhaustion and sun stroke.

The American Red Cross is urging people to stay safe in the heat; first and foremost, it's especially important to not leave pets or children in a car, even with the windows rolled down, as temperatures can reach 120 degrees within minutes.

The Red Cross reminds people to drink plenty of fluids; avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol; wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing; slow down, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise; take frequent breaks if working outdoors; and check on family, friends and neighbors who don't have air conditioning, who spend much of their time alone or who are more likely to be affected by the heat.

For those who don't have air conditioning, they should choose places to go to for relief from the heat during the warmest part of the day, such as schools, libraries, theaters and malls.

If someone is experiencing heat cramps in the legs or abdomen, get them to a cooler place, have them rest, lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish their fluids with a half a glass (about 4 ounces) of cool water every 15 minutes.

If someone is exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion -- cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness exhaustion -- move them to a cooler place, remove or loosen tight clothing and spray the person with water or apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Fan the person. If they're conscious, give small amounts of cool water to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Watch for changes in condition. If the person refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 911 or the local emergency number.

Signs of heat stroke, which is life-threatening, include hot, red skin that may be dry or moist; changes in consciousness; vomiting; and high body temperature.

Call 911 or the local emergency number immediately if someone shows signs of heat stroke. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the person's body by immersing them up to their neck in cold water, if possible. Otherwise, douse or spray the person with cold water, or cover the person with cold, wet towels or bags of ice.

For more information about what to do when temperatures rise, visit redcross.org, download the Red Cross Heat Wave Safety Checklist or download the free Red Cross First Aid.

There's also the danger of additional flooding in Vermont, said Gov. Peter Shumlin, who urged Vermonters in flood-impacted regions to use special caution following two weeks of isolated storms that have produced deadly lightning and swift currents in streams and rivers.

"The ground is so saturated after days and days of rain that any precipitation can cause serious flooding at this point," Gov. Shumlin said Friday. "Vermonters need to use common sense in avoiding high water areas, keeping an eye out for flooding, watching the level of Lake Champlain, which is approaching flood stage, and notifying local emergency officials if they spot problems."

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.