World's Largest Swimming Lesson makes a splash in Vermont

HARTFORD, Vt. (WCAX) A Hartford firetruck pulls through a parking lot at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center. Thankfully, it's not for an emergency, but rather an event intended to save lives.

"Any time you are near a body of water, there is always potential for danger," Hartford Firefighter Dan Jones said.

As some kids get swim lessons in the pools, others learn about the real dangers of water from first responders.

"Know your strengths and weaknesses. It is important not to push yourself beyond what you are capable of doing when you are in or near the water," Jones said.

The free event taking place in pools and waterways around the globe Thursday is called the World's Largest Swimming Lesson.

Norma Young brought her granddaughter.

"Their cottage happens to be in Canterbury, New Hampshire, on a small pond and they go there quite often in the summertime," Young said.

Quick skits by kids help bring important lessons to life, like look before you leap and throw, don't go.

"They like to go out in the kayaks and the boats and we just all want her to know how to swim," Young said.

First responders say drownings in the region's rivers and lakes are an all too common occurrence, especially this time of year when the water is cold and running high.

"Just because you learned to swim in a calm pool that is nice and warm, it might not translate to a strong current in a river that is colder," said Karen Cox of the Upper Valley Aquatic Center.

From 2005-2014, more than 3,500 people each year in the United States died from drowning. Worldwide, that number leaps to 360,000. It's a startling statistic and this event is trying to raise awareness, not just for the swimmers and those who may be in a position to help.

"I think it is easy for anybody to think, 'Oh, I can save that person.' But if you are in the water with them, it becomes very dangerous unless you are really trained on how to assist a drowning person or a person in trouble," Cox said.

A total 154 kids and adults received free swimming lessons at the Aquatic Center on this day, but organizers of the events say swimming is a lifelong skill that needs to be honed and practiced to stay safe on the water.