Boy drowns at YMCA during summer school field trip


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– 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.

“Boy drowns at YMCA during summer school field trip”

MAJOR SOUTHERN CITY: June 29, 2002 - An autopsy was scheduled for Saturday in the death of a 9-year-old boy who drowned during a summer school field trip at a local YMCA.

[Victim], who couldn't swim, drowned Friday morning while on an outing with about 45 classmates on the last day of a summer school program. Lifeguards found his body at the deep end of the pool after his teachers noticed he was missing.

“The classes were counted before returning to the school and that's when teachers realized one student was missing,” said [name], a spokesman for [local] Independent School District. “When they went back inside the YMCA, the lifeguards were already trying to revive the boy.”

YMCA officials said two lifeguards were on duty Friday at the pool, which reached 12 feet in depth. Officials could not say where the lifeguards were at the time of the drowning.

“The entire YMCA of [city] staff is shocked, grief-stricken and trying to come to terms with this tragedy,” [YMCA CEO] said.

Police said the child had no pulse and wasn't breathing when he was pulled from the pool, but that doctors at [area] Medical Center tried for up to an hour to revive him.

[Victim]'s mother, [mother’s name], said she was waiting for her son at school when she was told to go to the hospital, where she and family members waited until doctors told them “everything that could be done for [victim] had been done,” [victim’s mother] said.

“How can it happen? With the lifeguards and the teacher there? How can it be?” [victim’s mother] was quoted saying in Saturday's editions of [city newspaper].

[Victim] shared a bedroom with his 8-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother. The children were at a friend's house Friday night as their parents struggled to find a way to tell them about their brother.

[Victim’s mother] said [victim] was a shy boy who wanted to be a police officer when he grew up. He didn't know how to swim, but [victim’s mother] didn't think it would be a problem Friday morning.

“They said the children who couldn't swim, they would not let in the pool. Only in the small pool to wet their feet,” [victim’s mother] said.

What we know:

  • a special event that required special attention was in progress
  • two guards were responsible for an event that included 45 9-year-old participants, possibly plus other non-event swimmers; while technically within some prescribed ratio guidelines, this many children in this age group poses severe challenges for only 2 guards
  • a non-swimmer not only was not within arm’s reach of an adult, he was allowed unaccompanied into the deep end (12’) of the pool
  • for whatever reason, the victim was not identified within 10 seconds as prescribed by the organization’s national protocol

What we don’t know:

  • the location of the wading pool and whether these guards were responsible for also guarding it
  • if there were other swimmers in this or the wading pool besides this school group (which would have further compromised the capability of supervising the children in the water)
  • if a safety line was place separating the deep and shallow portions of the main pool
  • if the protocols reportedly announced to the parents about keeping non-swimmers out of the main pool were not followed, or if the victim somehow slipped through those procedures to gain access to the pool
  • if the plan called for 2 duty lifeguards or if a guard was missing for some reason
  • if the pool safety rules were thoroughly explained to the children before their activity
  • what the teachers were doing while the children were in the water

What we must remember:

  • Special groups always require special attention, including:

    • prior notice to the pool manager so provision for all of the following can be made
    • an adequate number of guards to properly swim test and supervise the number of children, paying attention to the number and specific age group involved; if the pool is open to other users, adequate provision for those swimmers must be supplied as well
    • a clear and concise explanation of rules and consequences to the participants (and their accompanying adults) before the children even approach the water
    • swim testing, marking, and protecting of all participants (even more important than normal because of the increased number of children and the probability that they are unfamiliar to the guards)
    • involvement of the adults who accompany the children; they should be involved in watching the children, preferably in the water, or at the edge of the water.
  • National organization standards require each lifeguard to be responsible for their specific assigned area– that means that they must be constantly aware of all activity in that area, scanning all of it every 10 seconds

    • above the water
    • below the water
    • on the pool bottom
    • on the deck
    • even in the wading pool if that is within their duty area
  • If the above standard cannot be met because of increased bather load or any other factor, then it is the responsibility of the lifeguard(s) on duty to do one (or more) of the following immediately

    • reduce the bather load so that adequate control can be maintained
    • increase the number of guards to allow proper scanning and supervision
    • close the pool until safe supervision can be provided
  • Non-swimmers should always be within arm’s reach of an accompanying adult and/or in a life jacket, and should never be allowed into the deep water portion of the pool

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


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