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Focus on heat and water safety ahead of busy beach weekend

Posted at 10:29 PM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-22 23:29:30-04

MILWAUKEE — The parks and beaches along Lincoln Memorial Drive will draw thousands of people this weekend to watch Milwaukee's Air and Water Show.

The crowds — as well as drinking — only increase the need to focus on heat and water safety.

"When you're out having fun with your friends, you don't realize, oh wait, I'm getting a little bit dizzy," said Reid Van Dunk, a former head lifeguard and supervisor at Bradford Beach.

Saturday will be hot and humid with a high of 90 and a heat index of nearly 100.

Naturally, people will head to the water to cool down. But make sure you're hydrated too before you submerge yourself in the lake.

"We noticed a lot of times people were not drinking enough water. So, we had a lot of heat exhaustion rather just swimming emergencies," said Van Dunk.

And if you're going to crack a few, well, try not to, he said. But if you do, make sure to take breaks with water.

TMJ4 spoke with Van Dunk while he was helping his son bury a friend in the sand. Today, he's a school teacher.

Beach ambassadors in Milwaukee

The county hasn't been able to staff a lifeguard at Bradford Beach for three years now. So, community members have stepped up to try and make it safer.

Teresa Coronado, outreach and development director at the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center, helped create the Beach Ambassadors in 2020.

Coronado said pandemic closures drove more people to the lake for leisure. That led to more drownings, including a higher number among African Americans, she said.

"We realized that the health problem in Milwaukee that's racism, as well as the health problem that was Covid, was coming to be a problem on the lake," said Coronado.

The ambassadors mainly patrol Bradford and hand out information on water safety. If they see anyone in trouble, they're trained to call 911. They won't jump in after you.

"Ambassadors aren't lifeguards and we told them not to get wet," said Coronado. "A lot of the drownings that do happen are people going after other people who are drowning who are not trained."

Coronado said you can find emergency contact information at the nearest park concessions. She recommends checking the county's website for weather and water conditions, especially rip currents, before hitting the beach.

A big tip, she said, is to swim with a buddy. Don't assume that a crowded beach means someone else will see you if you're in trouble.

After all, not every kid, like Van Dunk's son, gets to grow up with a dad who was Bradford beach's top lifeguard.

"It was a really good vibe here because everyone felt safe. A lot of kids we had here, they were able to swim here with no fear because of lifeguards," Van Dunk said.

The rest of us need to patrol ourselves.

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