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Health officials and local emergency management crews are urging caution around the water ahead of forecasted high temperatures in western Washington this weekend. The first ‘real’ warm weekend of the year in 2022. Although temperatures are forecasted to reach the high 80s and low 90s, the temperature of rivers, lakes and beaches are still dangerously low, which could prove a deadly combination for swimmers.

Many people really don’t know or understand the seriousness of cold-water shock. Even on a warm, sunny day in the spring, fall, or June in the Pacific Northwest, an experienced swimmer may be unaware of the danger cold-water shock can have on their body. Zack’s Law seeks to change that by educating, informing, and warning people about the risk of diving or jumping into cold water. It’s about saving lives

Rep. Peter Abbarno R-Centralia

Rep. Peter Abbarno introduced bi-partisan legislation that seeks to prevent cold-water shock drownings through signage at bridges and along waterways throughout Washington state. House Bill 1595, also known as “Zack’s Law.” is named after Zachary Lee Rager, an 18-year-old Centralia man who drowned from cold-water shock after jumping into the Chehalis River from a train trestle on the Willapa Hills Trail. Rager had jumped from the bridge several times before, but but on a warm sunny day in March 2021, he didn’t realize how cold the water would be when he jumped in. He succumbed to the cold water shock and drowned.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the 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. Victims may panic, take on water in that first uncontrolled gasp, and as many as 20% die in the first two minutes. An average of 200 people die each year because of cold-water immersion.

My son was an all-around amazing kid. He did everything he could to help everybody. After learning how many lives he touched, we knew we had to keep doing something for him to continue touching other lives and making a difference. If this means his loss is saving somebody else’s life, that’s what we are pursuing

Lee Hines, Zack’s stepfather

Zack’s Law would require state government agencies and local governments to erect signs on or near bridges and along waterways to warn people of cold-water shock and drowning hazards. Signs would be erected at the same time upgrades are made to bridges and other water-adjacent infrastructure so there would be no significant costs to taxpayers. The legislation also creates a mechanism for the public to donate funds to the state for the purpose of erecting signs warning of cold-water shock hazards along Washington waterways.

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Peter Abbarno says “Zack’s Law will save lives,” during an event honoring the life of Zack Hines-Rager with a goal of raising awareness around cold water shock to prevent drownings, Wednesday near the Adna trestle along the Willapa Hills Trail.

Although the legislation had bi-partisan support, contained a very low fiscal cost of $20,000, and passed out of the House Transportation Committee unanimously, the House Majority failed to pass the bill this year. Abbarno promised to re-introduce the bill.

No family should have to go through such a tragedy like this one. Zack’s accident was entirely preventable. Had Zack known about the frigid water and its dangers, he might still be alive today. With proper signage at these locations, other families might not have to suffer a similar loss. This bill can and will save lives.

Rep. Peter Abbarno

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