New water safety task force formed in Eau Claire - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

New water safety task force formed in Eau Claire

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - It's starting to feel like we've finally put winter behind us. As warm as it is, local law enforcement is reminding everyone the river is still cold, and dangerous. With that in mind, a new task force is putting the focus on safety now, and when the river moves to its slow summer pace.  

"We want everybody to use this beautiful river, we just don't want anybody to get hurt or drown in it," says Eau Claire Fire Inspector, Michael Laska.  

Officer Kyle Roder, with the Eau Claire Police Department, says, "With the water almost at flood stage, the rapids are very current, the undertow is bad, so people need to be careful."

According to police, in the last ten years there have been at least 21 drowning fatalities, in Eau Claire.

Laska says, "We've got the PD number of how many drownings we've had, who that population is, which is typically males 18 to 24."

In fact, men made up 90 percent of all the drownings. "So, we know that's a very big area that we have to concentrate our efforts on," says Laska.  

Almost half of the drownings have been alcohol related. Roder says, "Whether you're on the water or you're out driving a car, alcohol doesn't mix with that."

Eau Claire Fire and Rescue and Police are just two of 15 local agencies involved in a new water safety task force.

"We're looking at, how we get people into swimming lessons, wearing your life vest, getting sized for the right life vest. There's so many models and makes out there but which one is the right size for my five year old," Laska says.  

A  Memorial High School Student who died in 2009 sparked the idea behind the task force.

"A fifteen year old kid drown in the river and partly why was, and what we're finding out is, he did not know how to swim. And for whatever rhyme or reason wasn't participating in swimming lessons that are part of the school curriculum," says Laska.  

Like learning to stop, drop and roll, the task force hopes teaching water safety at an early age will help prevent these tragedies.

The task force meets once a month and says it has applied for a grant to begin a new river safety project. They weren't able to give us details about that project, but say we should know more in the near future.

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