When Michele Long decides to tackle a problem, she comes at it from all angles.
That’s why, for the past 12 years, she has participated in drowning-prevention efforts at the local, state and national level.
Long serves as the community outreach administrator with the Mesa (Ariz.) Fire and Medical Department. In her 19½ years in various positions with the department, she has provided peer support to the city’s first responders and educated the community about safety and health issues. So she had to specialize in those issues quickly.
Needless to say, child drowning stands out as one of the most pressing matters in the Valley of the Sun. “It was once said ... that we lose a classroom of kids every year to drowning in Arizona,” Long says.
The fact that drownings are preventable added a layer of urgency for Long. “In my heart, I just knew I wanted to see what I could do to make a difference, to not have this happen to anybody,” she says.
Fortunately for the water-safety community, Long fully committed to the cause. With the Mesa Fire and Medical Department, she has spearheaded several initiatives to spread water-safety awareness. This includes water-safety walks, where volunteers go door-to-door handing out information about protecting children from drowning. The program continues today. Her department produced a video series, called “I Remember.” It was the first work by a fire department ever to win an Emmy.
Long also belongs to the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, serving on its board of directors. With the group, she is continuing the data-gathering work performed for years by fellow honoree Dr. Tim Flood, who is retiring. He has identified ways to improve the statistics he has already gathered, and Long is helping to find that data.
Finally, she sits on the executive board of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, where she holds the title of secretary. She assists with NDPA’s conference, where she speaks occasionally, and helps organize fundraisers.
It seems that everything Long touches becomes a collaborative effort, whether it’s joining the fire chiefs of four cities to hold a press conference on drowning prevention and facilitate a habit of cooperation, or bringing together local hospitals and organizations to strengthen the safety walks from the standpoints of budget and reach.
Mesa’s citizenry seems to have benefitted from the efforts of Long and her fellow water-safety advocates. While the population has grown, the number of drowning deaths and severe incidents has stayed the same or gone down.
But there’s still work to be done. “A lot of people ask if I’ve experienced [a drowning loss] personally,” she says. “I have not. I just have that belief that if you can educate people and make them understand that this can happen to anybody and everybody, we can make a difference.”