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Drowning Prevention Q & A

Warmer weather is on its way which means pool season is almost among us. Lori Schmidt, the Immediate Past President for the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona and the Public Information Officer for Scottsdale Fire Department, offers some tips and answers some popular questions on how to be safe around water and prevent drownings.

How common are drownings?

When the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona started in 1988, there were 64.8 incidents per 100,000 kids. Now we average around 8 incidents per 100,000 kids. At the time, we were losing about 25-30 kids a year and our population was much smaller than it is now. If it hadn’t been for the efforts of hard-working individuals, we could be losing up to a 100 kids per year based on our population.

That said, no drowning is OK. There are a number of things everyone can do to reduce the risk of drowning. Drowning is 100 percent preventable. We just have to do our part so this tragedy does not touch our families.

What can families do to ensure their pool at home is safe?

The DPCA can connect families with agencies and fire departments who can come to the home to do a pool safety check. We can’t guarantee a home is “safe” or that it’s “drown proof.” However, we can identify specific risks in and around the pool and home that can be addressed. This can be discussing a change in landscaping, moving patio furniture, removing toys from the pool, etc. It is a free visit. No changes are made by the tech, but resources can be shared with the homeowner to make the appropriate changes.

When should water safety typically begin?

Mommy and Me classes at most swims schools are offered for free to introduce water to children. Children can begin to learn to swim quite early. The important thing to remember is that they must understand the rules (no going in the water without adult watching/approval), and that the caregiver does not decrease vigilance just because their child “knows how to swim.” Anyone can drown regardless of swimming ability.

What bath safety tips would you recommend to prevent drownings?

Do not start the water nor put the child in the bathtub if you aren’t ready with all supplies. Do not leave a small child under the supervision of a sibling. Do not leave a small child alone in a tub at any time.

What are the signs to watch for in a drowning?

Drowning is silent. Everyone thinks that it’s a loud splashing event. A person actively drowning will be struggling to get their face above water. There is no time to scream because they are fighting so hard just to get a breath. If you see someone climbing an “invisible ladder,” they are in trouble. And always assume someone is drowning rather than thinking it’s just horseplay. That is a dangerous assumption.

What should you do if you suspect there might be a drowning happening?

If the person is actively drowning, using a life ring or shepherd’s hook to reduce the risk of them pulling you under the water with them. If it is someone who is unconscious, immediately remove them from the water. Give 5 breaths and then begin mouth-to-mouth CPR. Call 911 and put the phone on speaker or have someone call 911. If others are around, have them wait outside for the firefighters to arrive and guide them to the patient.

My kid can swim–isn’t that enough?

No. Never turn your back on a child in the water even if they know how to swim. Vigilance should remain high at all times.

Are children with special needs at a higher risk of drowning?

Children with autism are at a higher risk of drowning. They are attracted to water and it can be very calming to them. The challenge is that some children on the spectrum cannot transfer knowledge learned at swim lessons to all bodies of water. Discuss these issues with your swim instructor and ensure they understand the specific needs of your child.

What does ABC stand for?

Adult supervision. A sober adult who knows how to swim should always keep eyes on the kids in the pool. No playing on their phone, doing yard work, or grilling.

Barriers. To keep children from unexpectedly reaching the water, put barriers in place. This means a pool fence, shutting doors, etc.

Classes. CPR and Swimming. Everyone should know how to swim. No amount of lessons will drown proof anyone, but it is an extremely important tool in the tool box for water safety. And when all other layers of protection fail, be sure you know how to properly administer mouth-to-mouth CPR.

Devices. Coast Guard Approved life vests should be worn by anyone in water above their swimming ability – including the pool. Floaties are toys and should not be used as safety devices. VGB compliant drain covers should be installed on all pools. A phone to call 911, life rings and Shepherd’s Hook are all also important devices to have pool side in case of an emergency.

What is a water watcher?

A Water Watcher is someone who has the responsibility of watching the water when people are in it. We recommend that an adult is assigned this role at pool parties and exchanged after about 15-20 minutes. (Our attention spans are only about that long.) That person should not be distracted during this time. Many drownings occur when there is an assumption that someone will notice if something goes wrong. Unfortunately, this can be when it is too late.

What is the best type of pool fence?

The best type of barrier is one that the homeowner will use consistently and correctly. Some prefer the pool nets or pool covers. The benefit is that this allows an unobstructed view of the yard. The challenge is that they take time to remove and reinstall – which can be a problem if you have toddler escape artists you are trying to manage. Mesh fencing has become popular because they are removeable. They should always be in place and maintained while children are in the home. While there are options for height, we recommend the 5-foot fence. Lower fences are more for animals. We’ve seen children easily climb them if not high enough. The most studied and most approved is the 5-foot wrought iron pool fence with a self-closing, self-locking gate. When used consistently and maintained, this fence has proven to be the most effective barrier. Do not be tempted by ornate designs in the fencing, which give children toeholds and allow them to easily climb over.

Any other tips or advice you would add?

Despite being a desert state, water is around us all the time. Backyard pools, open water, even the bathtub poses a drowning risk. However, if we take simple steps we can prevent drownings.

One final note …. Adults drown, too! We tend to swim alone and/or swim impaired; two easily addressed risks. Remember the old rule, swim with a buddy. And if you don’t feel well, are taking medications that make you drowsy, or are enjoying some adult beverages, choose wisely. Put on a life vest or choose not to enter the water.

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