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Water Safety Concerns Grow After Near Drowning

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BALLWIN, MO (KTVI)-- Hours after two boys almost drowned in the Meramec River in Castlewood State Park swimmers were back in the water many wear not wearing a life vest.  One swimmer said, "I`ve been swimming since I was two."

The water may look calm and inviting, still there are many hidden dangers according to Metro West First Protection District Assistant Chief Edward Beirne. "Underlying currents, debris you`re not aware of and particularly water in Missouri historically is darker a lot of times you can`t see the bottom or where the deeper holes are," he warned.

The river has been unforgiving. Two months ago a 22-year-old man who was described as a good swimmer drowned.  In 2006, funerals were held for five youngsters from a church group after the water claimed their lives.  On average one or two people will die in that spot on the river every year.

Beirne said, "We would prefer you not swim in this river however if you should choose to do that at the bare minimum you should have some type of life vest and have a buddy system."

Metro West firefighters train once a month on the river and the four times a year they stage a full blow rescue seminar.  All 97 firefighters in the district know how to rescue people. Beirne said, "These are preventable they don`t have to happen."

The district worked closely with the Department of Natural Resources and now new warning signs are in place.

Metro West Public Information Officer Michael Thiemann said of the signs, "To shock people to realize that people die here."  It frustrates him that swimmers ignore the signs but he`s pleased that others are playing it safe.

Angie Nichols brought her loved ones to the river Wednesday afternoon, "We require all our kids to wear a vest because I`d rather have a day of enjoyment than a day of scare."

Previous Story: Teens Rescue 2 Kids From Meramec In Castlewood State Park