EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 8, 2012

Learning from loss: the Merrimack River tragedy 10 years later

10 years later, tragedy still a teaching tool for river's dangers


On the other side of the river, the Greater Lawrence Community Boating Program has been teaming with Lawrence Public Schools and Lawrence Fire and Police departments about the importance of water safety.

”This is a life lesson for every child in Lawrence and anyone who lives by a river,” said boating program executive director, Jed Koehler.

A year after the drownings, Koehler became an aquatic instructor at the Boys and Girls Club, where he taught the Keeping Kids Safe program for five years as a direct result of the tragedy.

He joined the boating program two years ago. During the water safety shows, Koehler starts each presentation pumping up participants with chants such as “Be Cool, Follow the Rules;” “Reach Or Throw, Don’t Go;” and “Think Before You Sink.”

This is followed by having the youngsters raise their pinky fingers in the air and saying, “I promise to never walk on the ice.”

Members of the fire department then have a mock water rescue on the school’s stage. Firefighters show students the equipment used during water rescues: ropes with loops, hooks, hoses and a sled or floating device that can go across water, thin or hard ice. Student volunteers are suited up in the same waterproof-lined ice rescue suit with reflecting vests and pockets used by firefighters in a rescue.

”These are equipment we don’t want to use. The worst thing for us is to get a call about kids in the river,” Lawrence Fire Capt. James Loffredo said. At the presentation, he speaks frankly about the dangers of the river year-round and about the drownings.

”It’s hard, but you can’t sugar-coat it. We try to present the hard reality. If that’s what’s going to take to save a life, we’ll do it,” Loffredo said. “We tell them no matter what’s out in the water, whether it’s another kid or a dog, make a marker and go get professional.”

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