By The Chronicle staff

After introducing successful legislation to warn swimmers of the risk of cold-water shock following the death of a Centralia teen, state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, is using rising temperatures in the region as an opportunity to remind residents to stay safe around water. 

"The outdoor temperatures may be reaching into the 80s or higher, but our rivers, streams and lakes are still being fed by extremely cold mountain water. These low temperatures are very dangerous right now to swimmers who very easily could experience cold-water shock," Abbarno stated in a news release.

The lawmaker cited information from the U.S. Coast Guard noting the human body responds to cold water immersion with an increased heartbeat and blood pressure, faster breathing, uncontrolled gasping and sometimes uncontrolled movement. 

“Lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, the cold-shock response can be deadly by itself,” the release stated. “Victims may panic, take on water in that first uncontrolled gasp, cold incapacitation sets in, making it difficult for the person to move arms and legs, hypothermia begins, and as many as 20% die in the first two minutes.”  

Abbarno was the prime sponsor of House Bill 1004, also known as "Zack's Law," which was named in honor of 18-year-old Zachary Lee Rager, an experienced swimmer from Centralia who fell victim to cold-water shock and drowned in the Chehalis River along the Willapa Hills Trail on March 23, 2021. 

The legislation passed the Legislature unanimously during the 2023 session and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. It requires state government agencies and local governments to erect signs warning of drowning hazards when replacing or erecting signs near dangerous water hazards.

"Many people don't know the dangers of cold-water shock. Unfortunately, Zack found out how cold that water was when he jumped in. He immediately gasped. He went under the water and his friends never saw him again," Abbarno stated in the release. "I want to make sure other families do not experience that tragedy and heartbreaking loss of a loved one to this hidden and deadly danger. The first step is to prevention is awareness."

Abbarno noted that this week emergency crews from Thurston County rescued seven people rafting in the Nisqually River who ended up in the cold water.

"Emergency officials say that although these people were not hurt, they were unprepared with inadequate equipment, had no life jackets, and it could have turned out much worse," Abbarno stated in the release. "As a father and a husband, I enjoy recreational activities outdoors with my family all the time. I'm not discouraging others from spending quality time with their families outdoors across our beautiful Washington state. But let's look out for each other and make sure everyone is aware of this preventable danger so we all can enjoy many sunny outdoor days ahead.”

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