Drowning: Needless lives lost to Arizona bodies of water

The ABCs of drowning prevention rests on one common theme, which is watching children around all bodies of water as oftentimes tragedies occur when someone else was supposed to be watching. (File photo)

From Jan. 1 to June 23, there have been 17 drowning-related deaths from 56 reported water related incidents in Maricopa and Pinal counties, according to statistics from Children’s Safety Zone.

Among those deaths where three children under the age of 5-years-old.

“Everyone is at risk for drowning, but understanding the problem helps us to see where urgent attention is needed. Age is one way that risk can be really different from person to person,” said Tiffaney Isaacson, senior injury prevention specialist at Phoenix Children’s Center for Family Health & Safety.

“In Arizona, from 2013 to 2017, children ages four and under drowned at a rate which was about 84 percent higher than the national average. The rest of the population in Arizona drowned during the same time at a slightly higher rate, but only by about 5 percent.”

— Tiffaney Isaacson of Phoenix Children’s Center for Family Health & Safety

For Ms. Isaacson understanding the problem is the first step toward prevention.

“Once we see how high-risk children are, we can look at how child drownings happen,” she explained.

“Arizona has a team of experts who look at drownings, and five years of Child Fatality Review team data show that about 65 percent of child and teen drownings happened in pools and spas. Since most of these incidents happen in residential settings, working directly with parents gives us the best possible chance to save lives.”

ALL BODIES OF WATER: The ABCs of drowning preventive spans all bodies of water, and all ages. [File photo]

Preventative measures

Like many experts, Ms. Isaacson said that drowning prevention efforts before there is an emergency is key.

“Emergency response is vital, but preventing an emergency is even more important,” she said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a revised policy statement on preventing drownings. The statement tells us that adequate supervision near water is absolutely essential. This means close, constant and attentive supervision of children, also known as ‘touch supervision.’”

Ms. Isaacson added that distracting activities, including cell phone use, are dangerous, so adults should turn their cell phones off when supervising children in the water.

“When one adult gives the responsibility to another, a clear hand-off should take place,” she said. “We encourage adults to keep their turns as a supervisor short, so supervision is always strong.”

Lori Schmidt is the public information officer for the Scottsdale Fire Department and the immediate past president of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona. She noted that water safety should be a concern for everyone — no matter the age or how long they have lived in the Valley.

One of the key factors to preventing unnecessary death due to death are barriers to both man-made and natural bodies of water. (File photo)

“Our water play is fun, but it comes with significant responsibility to reduce risks of injury,” Ms. Schmidt said.

“Swimming pools should have isolation fencing to keep kids from accessing the pool when unsupervised. But it doesn’t stop there; spas should have lockable covers. Families without a pool or spa aren’t off the hook. Bathrooms pose a risk, too. Don’t start tub water until all bath items have been collected. Keep toilet lids closed.”

Water safety is a multi-layered approach, Ms. Schmidt said.

She recommended keeping in mind the ABCs:

  • Adult supervision. “Supervise children and adults around all water. The caregiver should be sober and know how to swim,” Schmidt said.
  • Barriers should be put into place to block children from unexpectedly getting into water. “Make sure drain covers meet standards,” she explained. “Coast Guard-approved life vests should be used by anyone in water above their swimming ability.”
  • Classes to learn to swim can be taken at any age.

“And mouth-to-mouth CPR should be administered immediately if all other layers fail,” she said.

Local resources

In Scottsdale, there are many resources available to local families to help prevent drownings and improve water safety. The Scottsdale Fire Department offers a free Pool and Spa Safety Check in partnership with the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona.

“This visit assesses any risks at the home and provides the residents with recommendations on how to fix or reduce the drowning hazards,” Ms. Schmidt said.

Locally, Scottsdale residents can sign up for a free safety check by visiting scottsdaleaz.gov/fire/pool-safety. Outside of Scottsdale city limits, those who are interested can request a check at preventdrownings.org/prevention/poolspasafetychecklistprogram.

All swimmers seasoned and beginners alike need to take care when they are in any kind of body of water, experts contend. (File photo)

“We can prevent drownings. Taking simple steps can save lives,” Ms. Schmidt said. “Contact the DPCA or your local fire department if there are any questions about the different types of barrier options that may be accepted by the city ordinances.”

In addition to education on water barriers, swim lessons can make a lifesaving difference.

“Swim lessons are available at any of the City of Scottsdale aquatic centers,” Ms. Schmidt said.

“Learning to swim is important. Dog paddling is not swimming and swimming in a pool is very different than swimming in a lake or river. Wearing a life vest is important for all ages in and on open water as your ultimate back-up to your swimming skills. Adults are drowning in lakes and rivers because of fatigue and an over-estimation of swimming ability.”

Once a child is a confident swimmer, though, does not mean a parent or caregiver’s job is over.

“Parents should also not become complacent just because their child knows how to swim,” Ms. Schmidt affirmed. “Children should be watched by a supervisor’s eyes, not by their ears. Don’t do yardwork, read or talk on the phone while children are swimming. Also, supervision does not happen through a window. It is imperative to be poolside with any child in or near the water. For children under the age of 5, caregivers should be within touch distance.”

— Lori Schmidt, Scottsdale Fire Department

Ms. Isaacson reaffirmed that parents and caregivers often focus on swim lessons for children to reduce drowning risk, but the recent AAP statement notes that swim lessons and swim skills alone cannot prevent a drowning.

“Learning to swim is just one part of anticipating, avoiding, and surviving a drowning situation,” Ms. Isaacson said. “A child who swims well at lessons may not swim well outside of class. Becoming capable in and around the water is a long process that involves lessons and developmental maturity.”

In addition to resources offered by the City of Scottsdale, Ms. Isaacson said that Phoenix Children’s Hospital provides many drowning prevention resources to Scottsdale families and Valley residents. These include educational events and flyers, workshops with community partners, and a life jacket program.

In the case of an emergency

In case the worst happens and a drowning occurs, time is of the essence.

“If a child is missing, adults should check the pool right away,” Ms. Isaacson said. “Seconds count in an emergency. Adults should have current CPR skills, including understanding how to give rescue breaths.

“Drownings can happen with multiple people poolside,” Ms. Schmidt added. “Many assume that someone will notice when something is going wrong. Unfortunately, many times that recognition is too late. Assign a water watcher or hire a life guard for any gatherings that involve children and the pool.”

Experts note that, in case of a drowning, the first focus should be on getting the victim out of the water. Then, call for help, and if the victim isn’t breathing, start CPR.

Editorial note: Ms. Talsma Everson is a freelance journalist

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment