First responders discuss recent drownings, water safety


EUREKA, Mo. – St. Louis area first responders came together Monday to sound the alarm about the high number of drownings in the region.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol reports 11 St. Louis area drownings so far in 2021; 9 of them since May 1. There were 12 drownings in the area for all of 2020; 14 for 2019, and 11 for 2018, according to state police.

Rescuers delivered a message from a Eureka Fire Protection District station house that really came down to six words from Division Chief Scott Barthelmass, Eureka Fire Protection District.

“We want to stop the drownings,” he said.

Rescuers from 23 departments in St. Louis, Jefferson, and Franklin counties showed off their latest life-saving equipment and also pointed out that most often by time they received a call about a drowning, it was already too late.

They’ve been seeing another drowning every four to six days on average for the past seven weeks.

The most common factors are alcohol consumption and no life vests, according to Cpl. Juston Wheetley, Missouri State Highway Patrol.

In what were chilling moments, Metro West Fire Chief Mike Krause described drownings as frightening, sad, and surprisingly quiet, with no splashing and screaming like you see in the movies.

“The reality is drowning—in its last moments—is a very silent event,” he said.

“You don’t have time to yell. You don’t have the oxygen or the breath to yell. One of the common last things a drowning person does is bob from the top to the bottom of the water. In their mouth they get a breath, then they go down again. They go down for good.”

Metro West Deputy Chief Mike Digman said while fire protection had become second nature for most of us, water safety was far from it. That must change.

“When we’re getting ready to do an activity on the water we should be getting a life vest, just as important as getting sunscreen,” Interim Fire Chief Romona Kaminski, Fenton Protection District, said.

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