Conservation officer urges water safety for all ages


Relaxing on the water is a pivotal part of a Brown County summer. From lakes and ponds to creeks, rivers and streams, many Brown Countians choose to spend their free time exploring the water.

Indiana District 6 Conservation Officer Joe Tenbarge encourages citizens to wear a life jacket and take extra precautions when around open water. Brown County falls into Conservation District 6 along with Hancock, Marion, Henricks, Morgan, Johnson, Shelby, Monroe and Bartholomew counties. Tenbarge told the Democrat that there have been six drownings within District 6 so far this year, however none of them have been in Brown County. The closest was at Lake Lemon, on the Monroe County side.

The drownings include all types of bodies of water, including those located at personal residences except for pools or bathtubs.

“There have been six that we have investigated,” Tenbarge said. “Not to say there have not been more. There are several agencies that have dive teams. We do all the investigations so we are generally called out to the majority of them. That’s not to say something did not get turned over to us.”

Including other districts, Tenbarge has been called out to nine drownings in southern Indiana this year ranging from the ages of 5 to 57. Four out of the nine were persons under the age of 18.

The cause of drownings were primarily swimming, but also included kayaking.

“What people don’t realize is, in a lake distance can be misleading,” Tenbarge said. “People just start swimming and are farther out from the shore than they thought. The biggest thing we preach are lifejackets. If you’re on a boat, kayak, paddle board or canoe you are required to have one in the vessel. You do not have to be wearing it, but you must have one with you. Of all the drowning calls I have been on in over 11 years of diving, I have not made one recovery on someone wearing a life jacket. Life jackets save lives.”

Tenbarge is a member of the dive team that services from lake Michigan to the Ohio river.

“We utilize sonar, a sound imaging device that reads contours,” Tenbarge said. “It has made rescue and recovery much quicker because it limits diving and hazards since we are now diving to a specific point and not searching the entire area.”

Potential hazards for rescue divers include black water, water temperatures during ice dives, dehydration with the heat, hazardous material from vehicles, entanglement, heavy metals and debris in the bottom and the overall danger of scuba diving. Tenbarge recommends people to know their limits, wear life jackets, carry flotation devices, watch their kids and take a friend with them when going out on the water.

“I’m not saying water is dangerous,” Tenbarge said. “Just know your limitations. We encourage people to go out and have a good time on the water, just be intentional about it and take safety precautions like life jackets or flotation devices. If your kid’s not a strong swimmer, have them in a life jacket, know their limits and get them in swimming lessons. What we see a lot is that kids swim in a pool where they can see the bottom and are comfortable, but like many of us, when they get out to a lake and cannot see in the water panic sets in. If you plan on having them out on the lake, get them comfortable in water where they can’t see the bottom.”

Tenbarge said that there is a saying to remember for people who suspect someone is drowning, preach, reach, throw, row. The first step is to try and talk the person into self rescue, if that does not work you can try reaching something to them to grab. The next step is throwing a flotation device and the last recommended option is to try reaching them in a boat, canoe or kayak.

“We really don’t encourage swimming out to them anymore. It’s not recommended because when people do that we typically have two victims.”

The next step when you suspect someone is drowning is to call 911 as quickly as possible.

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