Boy second person in as many months to drown in YMCA pool

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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 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– 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.

The following three tragedies took place over the Memorial Day weekend in guarded YMCA pools.

“Boy second person in as many months to drown in YMCA pool”

SMALL EASTERN TOWN: 05/26/2002 - A 15-year-old boy became the second person to die in as many months after drowning in a YMCA pool Saturday (May 25), police said. [Victim] was swimming with members of his church youth group when he failed to emerge from the pool. A lifeguard then pulled [victim] out and performed CPR, police said.

[Victim] was transported to [name] Medical Center where he died.

“[Name] area family YMCA staff and volunteers are shocked and grief-stricken. We ask that everyone keep [victim] and his family in their thoughts and prayers at this terrible time,” the YMCA said in a statement.

In March, 11-year-old [prior victim name] jumped into the pool at the [name] Area Family YMCA and did not resurface until lifeguards drew her out. She died a week later at [hospital name].

“Well, it's a tragedy,“ said [police spokesman]. "They were both a tragedy, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure everything was done properly.”

A follow-up article to this incident states:

“YMCA closes pool after second drowning”

SMALL EASTERN TOWN: 05/27/2002 - The YMCA said Tuesday it has closed its pool indefinitely following the second drowning in the past three months.

The Board of Directors made the decision during a special meeting Monday.

On Saturday, 15-year-old [victim] drowned in the pool's deep end during a church group outing. In March, 11-year-old [first victim] died after failing to surface during a Family Night outing.

YMCA officials would not comment Tuesday on the circumstances surrounding [victim’s] drowning, including reports from witnesses that the lifeguard on duty did not use a raised platform installed after [first victim’s] death.

[YMCA] spokeswoman, assistant to the YMCA's executive director, said there would be no other comments about the incident other than what was in a written statement issued Tuesday.

[YMCA spokeswoman] said the YMCA and city are working with the state Health Department, the national YMCA and independent experts “to examine all aspects of pool operation.”

“The primary concern of the YMCA is, as always, the health and safety of the public,” the statement said.

What we don’t know:

  • The victim’s swimming skills

    • Swim testing of all children is critical. Only children who have demonstrated their ability to swim in deep water should be allowed into that portion of the pool. Once tested, they should be marked so that the lifeguards can tell who belongs where. Non-swimmers should receive extra protection—either remaining within arm’s reach of an adult or wearing a life jacket.
  • The quality of immediate medical care the victim received– the article cites “CPR”

    • Presumably the victim needed CPR, we do not know about the possibility of a spinal/head injury, the method of extrication is not recorded, nor is mention made of whether there was EMT response.
  • Whether or not the guard on duty was using the newly installed elevated chair–witnesses say no.

    • Reportedly an elevated guard chair was installed after the first drowning, presumably to ensure proper positioning.

What we do know:

  • A lifeguard was on duty.

    • But we do not know the ratio or how quick the response was. The unresponsiveness and eventual drowning of the victim is indicative of a slow response, unless another injury or medical condition was present.
  • Improper scanning appears to be involved.

    • Lifeguards should position themselves so that their view of the pool bottom of their entire area of responsibility is not compromised by glare, building components, or floating play structures.
  • Both incidents were during “special” events.

    • We repeatedly see accidents when it is a non-routine organization event.
  • The organization's comments show concern for those affected

    • Circumstances such as these are difficult, and this is the second drowning this year so sentiments are often hard to communicate, but an expression of care and concern for the victim, his family, and others affected is critical. Remember to show that the camp cares.
  • This is the second such tragedy at this facility in 2 months.

    • A major review of all of their aquatic procedures and protocols should be undertaken immediately. Such occurrences should not be a possibility; if they are, the public should be clearly warned of the potential.

“Girl dies at [name] YMCA pool”

SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN (May 24, 2002) - A 6-year-old girl died in a YMCA pool Friday in what police called a likely drowning.

[Victim Name] was swimming with about 30 other children in an after-school program to celebrate the end of school when someone noticed she was unconscious at about 4 p.m.

Lifeguards could not revive her, and she was pronounced dead at the nearby [name] Medical Center.

Three lifeguards and three other adults were supervising the pool party, and officials don't believe there was any negligence, said [police department Sergeant].

The children “were all just swimming and having a good time in the pool,” she said.

What we don’t know:

  • The victim’s swimming skills.

    • Swim testing of all children is critical. Only children who have demonstrated their ability to swim in deep water should be allowed into that portion of the pool. Once tested, they should be marked so that the lifeguards can tell who belongs where. Non-swimmers should receive extra protection—either remaining within arm’s reach of an adult or wearing a life jacket.
  • The quality of immediate medical care the victim received.

    • The victim needed CPR but we do not know about the possibility of a spinal/head injury. The method of extrication is not recorded, nor is mention made of whether there was EMT response.

What we do know:

  • An adequate number of lifeguards were on duty–3 guards for 30 swimmers.

    • More important than ratio is vigilance, we know that “someone” noticed the unconscious child. We do not know whether that was a guard, another child or someone else. An unconscious child would indicate improper scanning and unresponsiveness unless another injury or medical condition was present.
  • It appears improper scanning is involved.

    • Lifeguards should position themselves so that they can reach any area of their responsibility within 10 seconds.
  • The organization did not comment in this article.

    • Circumstances such as these are difficult, and sentiments are often hard to communicate, but an expression of care and concern for the victim, his family, and others affected is critical. Remember to show that the camp cares.

“Girl's drowning baffles family; Teen wanted to join military, become orthodontist”

SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN: May 28, 2002 - Incoming High School senior [victim] wanted to join the military. She hadn't picked a branch of service yet, and was on the mailing lists for the Army, Navy and Marines. Every week, something new would arrive touting foreign locations, high technology jobs and service to country.

But [victim] wanted more out of the military than exotic travel – she wanted a college education.

The 17-year-old, who hoped to one day become an orthodontist, died Monday. Police said she drowned in the shallow end of the brand-new YMCA pool in [town] while swimming with a girlfriend and the friend's little brother.

YMCA officials would not say Tuesday how many people were in the pool at the time or why [victim’s] friend had to summon help.

“I really want to make sure all the facts are correct before releasing any information,” said [YMCA public information officer]. She refused any further comment.

No medical abnormalities were discovered in a preliminary autopsy performed Tuesday. She did not hit her head, suffer a seizure or have a brain aneurysm.

“We have a young girl who drowned for no apparent reason,” [town] police Commander said.

[Victim’s] aunt and legal guardian is still baffled by the girl's death. She said her niece, a strong swimmer, was racing down the length of the 25-yard-long pool with her friend's brother when she lost her “scrunchie” or ponytail holder. “[Victim] dove down but she didn't come up,” she said. “(The boy) went back down and shook her. She didn't move and he screamed for help. She wasn't down there more than 10 seconds.”

[Police] said two lifeguards were watching the pool, including one who was in a tower above the water, not far from where [victim] was. They dove in after being alerted by the friend and pulled her out. Off-duty police Officer [name] was at the pool with his family and performed CPR until paramedics arrived.

“She died at the hospital,” [Aunt] said. “It's been very hard. Her uncle is just devastated.”

A native of [Southern town], [victim] had lived with [relatives] only six months. She worked a part-time job at Papa John's pizza in [town], and she loved to shop. “She had more plans than she knew what to do with. She was 17 and couldn't be stopped,” her aunt said. “I wish she had 60 more years with me.”

Funeral or memorial service arrangements have not been completed, but [Aunt] said donations should go to Students Against Drunk Driving because of alcoholism in the family.

What we don’t know:

  • What caused her to not resurface.
  • Cause of death– autopsy said what it was not, but not the cause.
  • How she could drown in 10 seconds (assuming that timetable is accurate)

What we do know:

  • There were 2 guards on duty, one in an elevated chair.
  • Drowning victims do not die if submerged for only 10 seconds.

What we can learn:

  • A drowning can occur at any time, even with experienced swimmers.
  • Despite 3 guards and proper ratio, someone still died.

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 YMCA risk management issues.

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