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Officers stressing water safety
Joined by Bryan County Sheriffs Office Cpl. David Hicks, CHAMPS students pose aboard one of the BCSOs three boats. - photo by Photo provided by BCES

Bryan County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. David Hicks knows a lot of local kids will be spending time on the water this summer.

The county is bordered by the Ogeechee, Canoochee and Jerico rivers and St. Catherines Sound. Many people also will venture to pools, ponds or lakes for recreation.

“I know that most of my students are going to be in some body of water somewhere,” said Hicks, who conducts educational programs for fifth- and eighth-graders through the CHAMPS (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety) program.

The BCSO and Georgia Department of Natural Resources teamed up recently to teach a swimming and boating-safety course to all the fifth-grade classes at Bryan County Elementary School. The same course was given to George Washington Carver Elementary fifth-graders last year, Hicks said.

The students learned the do’s and don’ts of water safety, particularly the importance of always swimming with a buddy and having adult supervision.

“The last thing I want to do, which I’ve had to do, is dive for a body and recover a body,” Hicks said. “We’ve had to do that here in Bryan County.”

The safety course is timely after a Savannah man drowned in the Ogeechee River on May 13. The day before, a 4-year-old boy drowned in a swimming pool at his father’s home in Ludowici.

Hicks also conducts CHAMPS programs in Long County. The young boy’s drowning there was on students’ minds when Hicks visited Walker Elementary School on Friday.

“They were asking me, ‘Deputy Hicks, did you hear what happened?’” he said. “That’s when I reiterate this stuff: ‘You guys see what I told you? Accidents can happen.’”

Hands-on lessons

The course covered some typical water-safety tips, such as obeying “no diving” signs, entering feetfirst into water of unknown depth and not mixing alcohol with swimming or boating.

It also included some potentially life-saving suggestions that many kids — or adults — might not think of. For example, Hicks pointed out that someone can stay afloat using only the type of large plastic cup commonly found at convenience stores or fast-food restaurants.

“Turn that cup upside-down, push it down in the water and hold onto it, and you’ll actually feel the floatation in it,” he said.

In fact, any number of items could be used to help someone struggling in the water when a life preserver isn’t handy. A bystander could throw a cooler lid into the water or extend a fishing pole for the person to hold onto.

“Anything that will help them float until somebody can get to them,” Hicks said.

He cautioned that only someone with proper water-rescue training should jump in the water to help. Otherwise, the better option is to throw or hand the person an object to stay afloat, and call for help.

“I don’t want you swimming to this person because, if you’re not trained to deal with them, then instead of one body, I end up with two,” Hicks said.

Life jackets were an emphasis of the boating-safety lesson, which included the students stepping aboard for a look at the BCSO’s and DNR’s boats. The fifth-graders put on life jackets to learn which type is best for certain scenarios, such as being on inland water with the likely chance of a fast rescue or on open water where a rescue could be slower in coming.

Georgia law requires anyone age 12 or younger to wear a life jacket anytime a boat is in operation. Also, a life jacket must be available for every person on board.

“If there’s five people in that boat, if I check your boat or if DNR checks your boat, there better be five life jackets or more on that boat,” Hicks said. “There has to be a throwable device. That’s the law. And you have to have a fire extinguisher.”

CHAMPS for kids

CHAMPS, a program of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, has been in Bryan County for eight years, according to Hicks.

CHAMPS essentially replaced D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) as the local program to guide students to make safe and healthy choices. It targets fifth- and eighth-graders because they are on the verge of transitioning from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school.

Along with the water-safety program, lesson plans throughout the year cover topics such as bullying, Internet safety, peer pressure, hunting safety and alcohol and drug abuse.

For more information about CHAMPS, call Hicks at the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office at 756-2181 or 653-3800, or visit the website

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