Boy drowns on swimming trip...”Youth was with YMCA group at [name] public pool


Each year, about 1,500 young people 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 YMCA. 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.

“Boy drowns on swimming trip…”Youth was with YMCA group at [name] public pool

SMALL SOUTHEASTERN SUBURB: 07/09/2003 – A boy swimming with his fellow YMCA campers Monday drowned in 5 feet of water at the [city] public pool, authorities said. Paramedics rushed [victim], 6, to [hospital] around 2:30 p.m. He was pronounced dead at the hospital, authorities said.

Earlier in the day, the boy joined around 55 children between the ages of 6 and 8 for an afternoon of fun at the public pool on [street]. The group made up the YMCA’s Discovery Camp at the organization’s [YMCA] branch on [street], said [name], the chief executive officer of the YMCA [name].

“Today, they went to a park, then to the pool to swim. That’s when the tragedy occurred,” he said.

[Rescuer] was swimming with her son when she spotted the boy at the bottom of the pool’s deep end. “I just pulled him out. It was real sad,” she said as she left the pool Monday afternoon. “It was real upsetting. I just want to go home.” [Rescuer] grabbed the boy from the bottom with the help of lifeguards. Someone performed CPR on him until paramedics arrived.

The YMCA staff kept the rest of the children at the pool while [county] sheriff’s detectives arrived. By 4:25 p.m., staff members, who were visibly upset, loaded the children on a bus and returned to the [YMCA] branch.

Counselors from [a hospice] greeted parents as they arrived to pick up the children. “They told us that there was an accident at the pool and that a boy drowned,” said [a mother] of [nearby city], who picked up her 6-year-old daughter [name]. The counselors also talked to the children about what happened. Six-year-old [participant] knew something was wrong when she saw the ambulance arrive at the pool. “They said he swallowed too much water and died,” [she] said as she crawled into her mother’s car. “It’s sad because he’s dead… I wish I could have gotten to him fast.” [Hospice] counselors plan to be at the camp again today, [YMCA CEO] said.

For the trip, two volunteer counselors and eight paid staff counselors went with the children, he said. They are supposed to supplement the lifeguards in watching the children. “They are not lifeguards,” [YMCA CEO] said.

The town of [suburb] contracts [location]-based [pool operating firm] to operate the pool. [Suburb] Mayor [name] said he could not provide the town’s rules or contract with [pool operator] on Monday evening. “From what I’m told it was adequately staffed,” [mayor] said, repeating what he was told: [pool operator] had lifeguards there, plus the YMCA had staff at the pool. [Pool operator] officials could not be reached for comment. It’s unclear how many lifeguards were on duty at the time of the drowning.

At the beginning of the YMCA’s day camps, counselors test the children’s swimming ability. [YMCA CEO] did not know how the boy fared in the swimming test. The YMCA will review what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again, he said.

“Drowned 6-year-old was quite spiritual; Child proclaimed himself a minister”

SMALL SOUTHEASTERN SUBURB: 07/09/2003 – [Victim] loved basketball, the Incredible Hulk and video games. But his true passion was the Lord. A self-proclaimed minister at age 6, [victim]’s favorite subject at [name] Christian School in [city] was the Bible. “He loved to talk about how much he loved the Lord,” said his mother, [name].

As investigators tried to figure out how the vibrant [city] boy drowned in a public pool under the watch of a combined 21 lifeguards and camp counselors Monday, family and friends crowded into [mother]’s [street] home, offering support and sharing memories of a wide-smiling boy who made everyone laugh. “With him there was never a dull moment. He always had something humorous to say,” [mother] said.

[Victim] died Monday afternoon after another swimmer noticed him submerged in the 5-foot, 3-inch-deep end of the [suburb] pool. He was rushed to [hospital], where he was pronounced dead. The [jurisdictional] Medical Examiner’s Office ruled [victim]’s death an accidental drowning Tuesday, but an investigation continues as to how the boy drowned. [Victim] was at the pool with 54 other children from the YMCA’s Discovery Camp. Eight camp counselors and two volunteers supervised the children.

Four lifeguards were watching over the lap pool where [victim] drowned. Seven others guarded the nearby kids’ pool. “We were actually over-staffed,” said [name], president of [pool manager], the [location]-based company contracted by [suburb] to run the pool. There are no state regulations administering how many lifeguards must be on duty, but [pool manager], which also manages pools in Georgia and Texas, usually staffs pools based on guards’ ability to see all areas of the pool, [pool manager president] said. At [suburb], a minimum of two guards watch the lap pool with another guard stationed at the kids’ pool, but those numbers reflect staffing during the pool’s slowest winter months, [pool manager president] said. Seven lifeguards is [sic] normal for a busy summer day such as Monday, pool manager [name] said. The pool aims to have about one guard per 25 guests, but guards also can ask for additional staffing if they think they need help, [local pool manager] said.

Pool officials estimate 40 people were in the lap pool, which has a maximum capacity of 96, at the time of the drowning. Attendance figures show 151 people were at the pool Monday afternoon, below the site’s 283-person capacity. A lifeguard was patrolling on foot near the end of the pool where [victim] was found, said [name], the pool’s assistant manager. Guards are trained to look for even the smallest sign of distress, but no one noticed anything Monday, [local pool manager] said. Swimmers nearby where [victim] was found also reported no indications of trouble, he said.

Pool employees still were trying to cope with the tragedy Tuesday. “We’re all pretty upset. We’re all pretty shocked,” [pool assistant manager] said. YMCA workers also were struggling with losing a long-time camper, said [name], chief executive officer of the YMCA [name]. YMCA staff members were having more trouble coping. “They take the safety of the children very seriously,” he said. “It happened on all of our watches.” YMCA has canceled all future water-related outings except for swimming at the [local] high school pool, where the youth will be supervised by the YMCA’s own lifeguards, [YMCA CEO] said.

[Name], deputy town manager of suburb, said the town has no plans to break its $159,000-annual contract with [pool manager]. “At this point, we have no reason to believe they’ve done anything wrong.” Until the official investigation is complete, “we don’t want to jump to any conclusions,” he said. The town has had no problems with [pool manager] since it began managing the pool at its 1999 opening, [deputy town manager] said. “We’re actually above and beyond the industry standards.”

[Pool manager president] said her company, which formed in 1998, has had no prior drowning at any of the three pools it manages. However, [pool manager] will conduct its own investigation into problems at pools nationwide and look for anything it can do to keep such a tragedy from occurring again, she said.

[Mother] wouldn’t talk about the accident or whether her son knew how to swim Tuesday, only saying, “He liked water.” Instead, she wanted to focus on the comfort she takes from knowing [name] is now with the Lord he spent his life loving.

Others remembered [victim] as they knew him in this world: a young boy who loved to learn, especially math and reading. “He was an eager student,” said [name], [victim]’s teacher and principal at [school]. The boy greeted her each morning with a hug and left her with a hug at the end of the day. “He brought joy to the entire school,” she said. “He was very friendly and easily made friends.” When students talked about what they had planned for the summer, [victim] shared his excitement about attending the summer camp. “We are going to miss him,” [teacher] said.

What we don’t know:

  • the extent of the swimming test administered by the camp counselors at the start of the week
  • whether this six-year-old passed that test and was cleared to be in deep water
  • whether or not the pool lifeguards performed a swimming test of those who were at the pool
  • why he was in the lap pool rather than the kid’s pool (he was among the younger of those present)
  • whether the 10 counselors were actively assisting in watching the children in the two pools
  • how diligently the lifeguards were watching the pool… does “patrolling” equate with scanning?
  • what actually caused his aquatic distress
  • how long he was under water before he was discovered, or how long it took to extricate him
  • how well trained and competent the involved guards were in rescue techniques and CPR… note that we aren’t even certain that the “someone” who performed the CPR was a lifeguard

What we do know:

in general:

  • special events, especially at off-site facilities, present great potential for guarding that does not meet our rigorous standards…we must monitor the guarding before we go and while we are there… if it ever falls beneath our standards, we must remove our kids from the water immediately
    • if the lifeguards don’t test the kids, they don’t know who belongs where
    • if the lifeguards don’t mark the kids, they won’t remember who belongs where
    • if the lifeguards don’t enforce the boundaries, the markings won’t magically save the children
    • if the lifeguards aren’t in elevated chairs or standing at the pool’s edge, they can’t see all of the pool bottom
    • if the lifeguards don’t maintain 10-second scanning diligence, our kids won’t be safe
  • black children are statistically more likely to drown than their white counterparts–12-15 times more likely for boys, somewhat less for girls. There are multiple reasons and obvious exceptions, but the general fact remains true–if we serve kids in this demographic segment of society we need to be especially diligent to avert tragedy

about this incident:

  • he wasn’t marked as being a swimmer or non-swimmer–a means of easily differentiating those who can swim from those who cannot could be the difference between life and death
  • scanning did not meet the organization’s 10/10 standard–he was not seen while in trouble, he was seen motionless on the pool bottom…that does not happen in just 10 seconds
  • he was not discovered by a lifeguard, even though they were “over-staffed”

What we must remember:

  • special events, i.e., anything that deviates from your norm, require special attention–certainly more diligence, possibly altered protocols or procedures, perhaps increased staffing ratios
  • swim test every child, use easily identifiable qualification markings, and add the protection of arms-reach supervision and/or life jackets for all non-swimmers
  • know and monitor lifeguard quality wherever you swim… if it ever fails to meet your standards, immediately get it improved or remove your kids from the water
  • your staff, including non-lifeguards, must vigilantly supervise the kids when they are in the water…
  • some segments of our population need special attention in certain environments…statistics have shown us that in general, light-complexioned children sunburn more easily than other children, toddlers who are not contained in an enclosed area need closer supervision than older ones, and black children have a higher tendency for drowning than other groups–whatever the segment of our society, whatever the exposure, go the extra distance to protect the children.

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 YMCA risk management issues.


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