Intermountain Healthcare Trauma Leaders Team Up with Local First Responders to Keep Utahns Safe Around Water this Summer

With temperatures rising and summer activities in full swing, families will be flocking to Utah’s lakes, rivers, and reservoirs to cool off. However, before gassing up the boat, grabbing the swimsuits, towels and sunscreen, trauma clinicians from Intermountain Healthcare say it’s critically important to review proper water safety measures.

Intermountain Heber Valley Hospital trauma and community health caregivers joined Utah State Parks, and Wasatch County Search and Rescue teams on Thursday to raise awareness about water safety prior to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Representatives from the organizations handed out life jackets, safety information and performed safety demonstrations at Deer Creek Reservoir, a popular recreation area in Provo Canyon.

In 2020, Utah experienced 45 unintentional drownings, the highest in a decade, according to Utah Department of Health data. Over the last five years, an average of 33 Utahns have died from drowning. A majority of these deaths happen in open bodies of water, like lakes, reservoirs, and rivers as people boat, kayak, paddle board, canoe, and swim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an average of 3,960 unintentional drowning events each year. Children are not the only victims. In Utah, multiple adult drownings happen every summer.

“Just wearing a life jacket would save a lot of lives,” said Doug Vogel, MD, emergency room physician at Intermountain Heber Valley Hospital and Park City Hospital. “It’s just like wearing a seat belt in a car. It should just be automatic.”

Here are eight things everyone should know before heading out to the next pool or lake party that may save a life:

1. Being a Good Swimmer Isn’t a Guarantee of Safety
“Just because you know how to swim, that doesn’t mean you’re not vulnerable,” said Mardee Jones, RN, trauma services coordinator at Intermountain Heber Valley Hospital. “Unfortunately, too many overconfident swimmers drown because they’re more willing to take risks in the water and those risks increase if you’re in open water. There are always going to be factors that are unforeseen or out of your control. The weather, for example, a storm can roll in and can change the condition on the water in a matter of minutes. No matter how strong of a swimmer you may be,  you are no match for mother nature."

2. Solo swimming is never a good idea
It might sound like fun to go for a peaceful dip in the pool or do a little night swimming on your own, but Jones reminds everyone that even if you’re the best swimmer in the world, you can’t always predict what might happen.

3. Know Your Surroundings
The sun may be scorching, but the lakes are still very cold. It doesn’t take long for swimmers to succumb to the effects of chilly water – causing cramps, shock, hypothermia and difficulty breathing. 

This is exactly what happened to 17-year-old Kalem Franco, who drowned in 2011 while swimming during a family outing. Kalem was attempting to swim the 100 yards between the shore and the island at Deer Creek Resort, when he started cramping and drowned.

“Kalem’s drowning changed our lives forever,” said Leno Franco, Kalem’s father. “It has been a traumatic experience for our family, and I don’t wish that on anybody. We learned from that ordeal. We changed - our habits have changed. We look at situations through a different lens now.”

Leno Franco now cautions and reminds other families that so many unexpected things can happen.

“Wear a life preserver when you are on the water. We learn a lot from our experiences. And hopefully, we can prevent an accident in the future,” said Franco.

4. In Open Water Don’t Dive-In to Save Someone in Danger
This may go against most people’s natural instincts, but if someone is drowning in a lake, reservoir, or river, resist the urge to dive in after them. Doing so may put both of you in danger. 

Instead, Wasatch County Search and Rescue crews recommend practicing the old “reach, throw, row or don’t go” method of rescue. Reach out to the person with any object they might be able to grab onto. Throw them a life jacket or something to help them float. If on a boat, use oars to row closer to a person to reach or throw something to them, but make sure not to put the boat’s motor toward a person in the water.

If you can’t do any of the above, your best option is “don’t go.” It’s a very difficult decision to make, but making yourself a victim won’t help anyone.

5. Lifeguards Aren’t Just for Kids – Appoint a Water Watcher
For all the reasons listed above, it’s important to have as many safety measures in place as possible. 
While a trained lifeguard is ideal, there isn’t always one on duty. That’s why it’s a good idea to appoint someone to be a “water watcher,” which can be spread around to adults in your group in 15-minute shifts. It’s also helpful to create a visual cue, like a special lanyard or silly hat, so everyone knows who’s on shift.

“One of the biggest hazards to water safety is distraction, so make sure to appoint someone who won’t be looking at their phone or falling asleep on the shore,” said Jessica Strong, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital community health director. “Think of it as a designated driver, but for water sports.”

Download and print a “water safety” card from Primary Children’s Hospital for more reminders on how to be smart around water.

6. You’re Never too Old for Swimming Lessons
More than half of U.S. adults don’t know how to swim well enough to save their lives. 
“Enrolling in an adult swim class is a smart thing to do if you’ve never learned the basics – or if you’re looking to improve,” said Jones. “Grab a friend, relative, or neighbor and take lessons together. Learn how to be safe and have fun."

7. Alcohol and Swimming Don’t Mix
If you shouldn’t drink and drive, you shouldn’t drink and dive. Period. 

“Alcohol numbs your senses,” said Dr. Vogel. “Which is absolutely the last thing you want when you’re surrounded by an element that could easily kill you.”

8. Once Again - Don’t Forget a Life Jacket
It’s called a life-preserver for a reason. The simple fact that if more adults would wear a life jacket, drastically more lives would be saved. 

The National Park Service recommends wearing a Coast Guard approved life jacket anytime you’re on, near, or in the water for any water activity, a life jacket is always a safe bet.

Additional Resources to Help Everyone Stay Safe Around Water
You can find more water safety tips and learn about other safety topics by visiting


Partners join to emphasize critical importance of proper water safety measures.