Drowning prevention: Know your limits
UF Health TraumaOne deputy medical director is committed to saving lives on land and in water.
Drowning is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the U.S., and Florida has the highest number of cases each year. “Preventable” is the key word, as parents, caregivers and all other water waders can take steps to prevent future drowning incidents.
These statistics hit close to home for Andrew Schmidt, DO, MPH, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville and deputy medical director of UF Health TraumaOne, who has dedicated his life to helping prevent drowning incidents.
A lifetime of lifesaving
Schmidt is originally from Ponte Vedra, Florida, and he frequented Jacksonville beaches while growing up. He was consistently around lifeguards, including his older sister, eventually following in her footsteps. Schmidt became a junior lifeguard by age 12 and a lifeguard by age 16. He even met his wife, Anne, who is currently a physician assistant at UF Health North, while lifeguarding in 2000.
His experience near the water and lifesaving training led him to become an emergency medical technician and then, to attend medical school to pursue a career in emergency medicine.
A commitment to educating others
In 2006, Schmidt co-founded Lifeguards Without Borders with Justin Sempsrott, a longtime lifeguard friend and current emergency medicine physician. The nonprofit organization offers drowning prevention and lifesaving training and development across the globe, with the goal of decreasing the burden of drowning through education and improving the science of open-water lifesaving.
Schmidt is also the medical director of Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue and the Volunteer Life Saving Corps, both of which provide lifeguard and lifesaving services for Jacksonville’s beaches, along with ongoing education in the community.
In the past, Schmidt also held trainings at the beach for emergency medicine residents at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville and local lifeguards. The training is scheduled to restart again this year.
“Residents spend a lot of time saving lives indoors and in a medical environment,” said Schmidt. “I wanted them to know how to save lives anywhere they are.”
During the pandemic, Schmidt and his colleagues had to think fast. Numerous internal collaborations occurred to discuss best practices for ensuring the safety of lifeguards and to determine when it would be safe for the public to return to beaches and pools.
“The pandemic taught us that lifeguards are important frontline workers who need to be protected,” said Schmidt. “They are sometimes overlooked, but they are your first line of defense when you’re at the beach or pool.”
Preventing the preventable
When it comes to preventing drowning incidents, Schmidt stresses knowing your limits. This includes knowing how comfortable you are swimming or wading in water of any condition or depth. It also means remaining within arm’s reach of children or loved ones who aren’t experienced swimmers.
Schmidt encourages all beachgoers to follow weather and surf alerts before heading to the coast, and to be wary of rip currents or inclement weather. Stay close to a lifeguard, and ask where it is safe to swim.
“Lifeguards are positioned high up and in specific spots on the beach in order for them to see the currents. They are trained to know where it’s safe to swim. Use them as your resource,” encouraged Schmidt.
Don’t ever go to the ocean alone or if no lifeguard is in view. Currents can be stronger than you assume, even if you are considered a strong swimmer.
“We’ve pulled people out of the ocean daily who know how to swim,” warned Schmidt.
Pools are another huge factor in drowning instances, especially for young swimmers. Always be a hand’s distance away from your child in the water. Try to get children trained as early as you can, so they feel comfortable, but never let this replace direct supervision. There are plenty of resources and lessons that parents can take advantage of in the community.
For adults, it’s never too late to learn how to swim.
Though we encourage all to take preventive measures and know their limits to stay safe, UF Health Emergency Medicine – Jacksonville is ready to handle any emergencies 24/7 and is staffed by highly qualified, board-certified emergency physicians.