The GNWT released results from the audits done on the Hay River and Fred Henne territorial parks last week, including calls for more information and accessible emergency equipment topping the list of recommendations.
Kelly Kaylo, assistant deputy minister for the Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI), said after recommendations are addressed the beach would attain the highest ranking on Lifesaving Society of Alberta and the NWT’s scale of one through seven – seven being the safest possible environment. It is currently only at two on the scale.
“This is a tangible measure of safety,” she said, adding that ITI plans to have all the recommendations put in place for this upcoming beach season.
According to a news release, the recommendations that came out of the audit of the Hay River beach include the addition of signage identifying hazards and the importance of supervising children, as well as providing equipment such as reaching poles and buoyant throwing aids available on the beach. The report also encouraged the training of all park staff in basic waterfront safety and emergency procedures.
While the lifesaving society was contracted to conduct the safety audits last summer after a child died at Fred Henne Park in Yellowknife, the Hay River beach has had its share of close calls.
In July 2011, a current swept three teenagers down the river in a raft. By chance, R.J. Benoit was testing his 19-foot power boat and was able to respond quickly, guided by his mother Lucie using a high-powered camera lens, and Jordan Groenewegen using a pair of binoculars.
As only two beaches in the territory are located in such close proximity to large populations, Yellowknife and Hay River were the only two surveyed.
Kaylo said the society had emphasized the use of measures that did not include lifeguards. But she also said such positions at both the Hay River and Yellowknife beaches were not entirely out of the question.
“The next phase of this process is that we’ve commissioned the lifesaving society to do a lifeguard feasibility study,” she said, adding that the results would soon be returned to the GNWT.
“For now, we’re planning to do a series of public consultation sessions and awareness campaigns. There’s an online survey for Fred Henne and we will likely do the same for Hay River. We’re certainly making sure the beach-goers have their say and we see what their needs are.”
Of course, Kaylo emphasized that no amount of equipment and signage can replace adequate parental supervision and said the public education efforts would hopefully serve to mitigate any complacency as a result of the new measures.
“I think informative signs are an excellent way of helping to educate the public on safety around the water and public safety sessions targeted to the specifics of our community’s safety needs in our area would be an excellent resource for the town to have,” said Heather Tybring, lifeguard instructor and supervisor at the Hay River Aquatics Centre.
“I think that the changes would definitely make a difference for kids and community members to be more educated on the safety precautions that need to be taken when in the water.”