One of the most important things taught in CPR classes isn't chest compressions or making sure the airway is open or any of the other steps in the process of trying to manually save someone whose heart has stopped.
Depending on the instructor, the most important thing taught in a CPR class is prevention. The first CPR class I took, the instructor said that "90 percent of the people whose heart stops beating are dead. That means only one out of 10 will survive."
She went on to say that the key wasn't to be able to do CPR so you could save that one person. She also said the key wasn't to be that one person out of 10, rather than one of the nine. The most important thing was do the best you could – stop smoking, lose weight, eat right, exercise, etc. – to make sure you stayed out of the group of people who had heart trouble.
In a word: Prevention.
Prevention always comes to mind at the time of another tragic loss of a young life. In some cases, it's harder to see where prevention would've worked than it is in others. The May 28 death of 16-year-old Michael Jerome Sawyer, who drowned while swimming with friends in the Susquehanna River off Jean Roberts Park, is one of those instances where prevention may have made a difference.
"It's not safe swimming in that river at all," Scott Hurst, chief of the Susquehanna Hose Co., said after Havre de Grace's volunteer firefighters recovered Michael's body.
Those nine words Hurst uttered should be part of the opening and part of the closing of every swimming lesson or swimming class for Havre de Grace kids. Oh, that's right, they're aren't any.
Havre de Grace resident Judy Billings eloquently advocated in a Letter to the Editor in The Record for a community swimming pool as an alternative for kids who want to hang out with friends and cool off on warm days. Whether that's the right option, I'll leave to others.
What I think is absolutely essential is that our community's children from pre-K through graduation are taught swimming and water safety. The water safety could be the equivalent of don't smoke, etc., in CPR classes. "Don't swim in the Susquehanna River," should be repeated every spring and every fall to every one of our children who attend Darlington, Havre de Grace and Meadowvale elementary schools who then advance to Havre de Grace Middle School before moving on to Havre de Grace High School.
Swimming and water safety are essential life skills that should not only be taught to all of our children, but also that should be embedded in the curriculum of all of the area's schools. In the absence of a community pool, the schools could tote kids off to Edgewood or Magnolia or North Harford middle schools or HCC or the city-owned outdoor pool in Aberdeen. As a seventh-grader at Havre de Grace Middle School when it opened, I remember hearing that the center court was designed for the eventual construction of a swimming pool. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't.
Barry Anderson, when he worked for the Havre de Grace city government, advocated for the construction of a community center between the front driveway to the middle school and Post Road. That plan floundered and eventually Havre de Grace got an activity center between the back driveway to the middle school and the Amtrak rail lines. It came without a swimming pool.
I understand why smart politicians run the other way when community-owned swimming pools are mentioned. One of the smartest I've known, the late Jerry Nolen, was an Aberdeen town commissioner when talk first began about Aberdeen getting into the swimming pool business and he couldn't have been more against an idea.
Pools come with a great liability. They are also costly to operate and maintain.
Still, there's nothing more costly to a community than the tragic loss of a young life, as the Havre de Grace community has been reminded repeatedly over the generations.