90 child drownings since Memorial Day: waterproof your kids

The lure of the pool in the heat of summer can be irresistible – and a reminder of the need to waterpoof your kids. So far this summer, according to the latest federal statistics, there have been 90 child drownings.

Taishea Fields, 8, gets help from lifeguard Matt Stewart, learning how to float on her back during swimming lessons at Rochelle-Landers Pool in Evansville, Ind., June 21, 2012. For the last three years, Jerome Stewart, Evansville Parks Board member and owner of Diversity Safety Company, has underwritten swimming lessons for inner-city children.

In all the training that I did to become a lifeguard – swimming, CPR, first aid, rescue simulations – the part that stuck in my head most was the discussion about how I would potentially have to deal with post-traumatic stress. If I was on duty and someone drowned, how would I handle that?

That was whole reason I took the training course, right? To prevent injuries and accidents, so that people could enjoy swimming in a safe environment. This section of the training drove home the seriousness of the post, and the risks involved with swimming.

My main lifeguarding experience occurred at summer camp with a limited number of kids, who were all required to pass a swimming test in order to swim without a personal flotation device. Other people that I trained with worked at the local aquatic center, which, like others throughout the country, have swarms of patrons during the summer months. Crowded pools, children running around, splashing, and the summer heat.

And although lifeguards play a pivotal role in swimming and water safety, unfortunately they aren’t infallible. A recent CDC study called “Lifeguard Effectiveness” says the most important thing that families can do to keep children safe while swimming is focus on prevention.

This week – July 22-29 – more than 70 facilities in 30 states are encouraging parents to learn about swimming safety and prevention as part Pool Safely Day, a national awareness campaign aimed at reducing drowning incidents, especially among children.

While drowning death rates have declined over the past decade, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1 to 4, according to a CDC report on drowning.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported July 19 that there have been 90 incidents of children drowning nationwide since Memorial Day, in addition to 106 emergency responses to near-drowning calls. Young children are the most vulnerable to drowning – with children under 5 accounting for 72 percent of the incidents. Most of the incidents occurred in swimming pools.

Drowning also adversely affects minority communities and males. According to USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport, youth drowning incidents in minority communities are more than double the national average. Among black and Hispanic/Latino children, six out of 10 are unable to swim, which is twice as many as white children. The CDC study shows that the drowning-related death rate among blacks is 9 percent higher than the overall population, and 116 percent higher among those aged 5 to 14 years. Males are also disproportionately affected by drowning, making up 80 percent of all drowning victims.

Overall, CDC data show that between 2005 and 2009 an average of 3,880 people died from drowning per year, and 5,789 people were treated for near drowning in US hospitals.

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As part of Pool Safely Day, the CDC, USA Swimming, and the CPSC have recommendations for parents and caregivers to ensure that children stay safe during swimming season:

  • Learn how to swim – parents and children. Knowing how to swim can be a basic life-saving skill. Also consider learning to perform CPR.
  • Encourage your local aquatic facility to fund free or low-cost swim programs for under-privileged youth.
  • Never leave children unattended in a pool, spa or open body of water. Be alert to what is happening in and around the pool.
  • Set up environmental protections. If you have a pool at home, make sure there is fencing around it to prevent kids from falling into the pool. This also includes proper drain covers and rescue equipment, like a floatation tube.
  • Boaters and weak swimmers should wear personal floatation devices.
  • If you think someone is having trouble in the water, and you cannot swim, alert a lifeguard.
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