5 Year Old Boy Drowns at YMCA

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Each year, nearly 1,500 children drown in the U.S. As we all know, a drowning can occur nearly anywhere. Yet, the natural inclination is to believe that one will not happen in our own community, especially at our own JCC. Awareness of the threat's reality is critical. Reinforcing proven prevention strategies is an essential element in protecting the kids in our programs. Both are the goals for our “Aquatic Alert” program. Each is a brief treatment of the topic, focusing on a real, recent, public event gleaned from the media… reprinting the published article in its entirety (omitting names and identifying references to the organization) and providing a few important teaching points for you to share with your staff. As always, if you need additional guidance on this topic, please call us at 800-463-8546.


“5 Year Old Boy Drowns at YMCA”

SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN: 02/15/2003 - Life was just beginning for [victim]. Six days shy of his 6th birthday, [victim] was spending a day off from kindergarten Friday with friends at the YMCA leisure pool. In a matter of months, he would be entering elementary school and then on to the rest of his life.

But there won't be a birthday celebration Thursday. [Victim] drowned in the pool just after 1 p.m.

“It's a very sad tragedy,” said [jurisdiction] Coroner [name]. “He was such a cute kid, with his whole life ahead of him.”

Details of how [victim] died are still being put together. He was one of 17 people in the pool at the time and was one of several children swimming together in the shallow end of the Olympic-size pool, witnesses said. Two lifeguards were on duty at the time and rushed to his aid when they discovered him not moving under water. One of the lifeguards pulled the child from the water and placed him on the pool's deck. Both lifeguards, joined by [rescuer], an emergency room doctor at [local] Hospital who was exercising at the facility at the time, used CPR in an effort to revive him. They were unsuccessful, and paramedics took over the fight when they arrived minutes later to transport [victim] to [local] Hospital. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

“All requisite safety precautions were taken,” said [name], membership and development director at the YMCA. She said the victim's mother was notified and arrived at the hospital shortly after the boy did. “The YMCA staff members are shocked and grief-stricken and are trying to come to terms with this tragedy,” [YMCA director] said. “We are keeping the family in our thoughts and prayers.”

[Victim] was near the edge of the pool in less than 4 feet of water when the lifeguard reached him, a witness said. [Name], who was swimming, said she didn't realize anything was wrong until she heard a lifeguard blow a whistle. “It was scary to watch them bring him out,” [witness] told [local television] Bureau Chief [name]. [Witness] said everyone was ordered away from the pool area to give medical workers an opportunity to work on the child. “I don't know how long he was under, but it had to be a few minutes for him to be blue,”

[witness] said. One lifeguard told authorities that [victim] was likely under water only seconds. An autopsy has been ordered for the child, [coroner] said.

[Victim] was well-known by many members of the YMCA staff.. He was a member of the organization's after-school program. Ordinarily, [victim] and the other children in the program would have been in school early Friday afternoon. However, city schools were not in session. Swimming is part of the activities common in the YMCA's vacation camp. Business continued at the facility on [location] after the drowning. There were two very distinctly different moods inside just 30 minutes later. Near the pool, friends and co-workers hugged the lifeguards who were on duty. One lifeguard, whose tears left her eyes red and swollen, was still noticeably upset as a friend offered comfort.

The administrative offices were silent and carried the atmosphere of shock and grief. But it's business as usual only a few feet away at the information desk where people were checking in and on the other side of the building where workouts continued.

“I just heard,” said [member], a teenager who completed a workout and was leaving. “I never knew anything was going on. "I can't believe something like that happened, especially to a kid. I can't image [sic] what his parents are going through.”


What we know:

  • the lifeguard-to-swimmer ratio was good: 2 to 17
  • the organization issued an appropriate public statement of their own grief and sympathy for the family
  • CPR was administered with the assistance of an emergency room physician
  • this was not a regularly scheduled swim; the children were usually in school at this time
  • the organization issued a defensive “requisite safety precautions were taken” statement
  • the lifeguards saw no struggling victim; he was discovered motionless, below the surface, in water less than four feet deep
  • a lifeguard stated that the child was under water for only seconds; a witness suggested it was probably several minutes, describing his coloring as blue
  • a child in the care of the organization was not returned to his family safely
  • the tragic event affects not only the child, his immediate family and friends, but also the guards responsible for his safety, witnesses, and the community in general

What we don’t know:

  • if the guards were scanning properly: i.e., all parts of their zone of responsibility every 10 seconds
  • if the guards were properly located: i.e., separated from one another and situated so that glare did not compromise their scanning ability
  • if the children in the pool had been tested for swimming ability, and if so, whether they were in areas that were appropriate for individuals of their ability or required to have any other protection such as arms-reach supervision or life jackets
  • if the guards were properly equipped: i.e., rescue buoy, airway, and gloves
  • if the guards had received adequate breaks and rotation so they were alert and attentive
  • if the guards had the benefit of supervisory staff observation and comment
  • if the guards participated in regular, appropriate, effective, interactive in-service training

What we must remember:

  • a tragic event like this can happen at any pool
  • proper guarding is important whenever anyone is in the water, but unscheduled events introduce new circumstances and individuals that increase the need for diligence; the majority of deaths in YMCA pools (60% during 2002) occur during some form of special event
  • guards are only as good as their organization allows and requires them to be; the following are helpful:
    • clearly stated standards and guidelines
    • frequent and regular in-services that cover scanning, extrication, and lifesaving techniques
    • frequent observations by both aquatic professionals and other staff (hopefully to catch them doing things correctly, but to provide correction as needed)
    • regular communication that should include recognition of a job well done as well as counseling for less than adequate performance; the latter should be accompanied by specific corrective measures, a time-frame for improvement, and the results of inadequate responsiveness
  • no insurance policy can restore this young life or undo the damage to the organization's reputation as a safe place for kids

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about JCC risk management issues.

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