Lifeguards unable to revive boy, 10; investigation under way


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 YMCA) 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.

“Lifeguards unable to revive boy, 10; investigation under way”

SMALL MIDWEST TOWN: 07/17/2003 - A boy who sometimes suffered seizures died after an incident at a pool that was attended by seven lifeguards Wednesday afternoon, but it was not clear whether or not he drowned, city officials here said today. The 10-year-old boy, whose name was not released, had been swimming in the shallow end of [park]'s pool on [street]. A lifeguard noticed the boy face down in about three feet of water about 3:15 p.m., said [town] Police Chief [name]. The boy, a [town] resident, had not been in the water for more than five minutes. His mother had accompanied him to the pool, [police chief] said.

[Town] Mayor [name] said he was told that the boy's mother was only 15 feet away from where he'd been in the shallow end of the pool. They were regulars at the pool and known to the lifeguards. “He has been known to have seizures,” [mayor] said about the boy. “We don't know if it was drowning or seizures (that caused his death).” There were 116 people in the pool at the time with seven lifeguards on duty, the mayor said. Everybody was doing their job,“ he said.

He said local officials and employees know of no drownings at the pool, which residents say is routinely crowded and has a capacity of 325 people.

Several lifeguards pulled the boy out of the water and onto a deck, where they began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, [police chief] said. The child could not be revived, and [town] police and firefighters were then called, [police chief] said. The boy was taken to [town] [hospital], where he died.

[Police chief] said the pool, managed by the YMCA, will remain closed until an investigation is completed. "Most of the lifeguards are young people, and they are distraught,” [police chief] said. “This is a tragic, tragic situation.” Residents of the quiet neighborhood near the pool were saddened.

“It's sad, ” surprising,“ said [name], 31, who has lived down the street from the pool his entire life. "I've never known it to happen here. ” There are a couple of hundred people there sometimes. It's packed all summer long.“ "It's overcrowded,” said [another individual], 20, who lives near the pool. “We just chill here.”

“Lifeguards unable to revive boy, 10; investigation under way”

SMALL MIDWESTERN TOWN: 07/18/2003 - [Victim] brimmed with enthusiasm, family members said. The 10-year-old, who drowned Wednesday in [town], exuded enthusiasm despite suffering epileptic seizures, diminished learning capacity and other health impairments.

[Name], his grandmother and guardian, said [victim] had friends and heroes wherever he went, from special-education teachers and neighbors to supermarket cashiers and garbage truck crews. He wanted to emulate them all when he grew up. “Everybody knew him and they all liked him well,” said [name], his aunt. “He's a very friendly kid and he's a very likable boy. He's got friends all over the place. When he comes to visit me in [nearby town], he plays with about everyone in the trailer park.”

[Town] Police Chief [name] said the preliminary finding of an autopsy Thursday showed that [victim] drowned. Authorities hadn't been sure if he died from drowning or from a seizure while swimming about 3:15 p.m. in [location] Pool, from which he was pulled unconscious.

Family members and others said [victim] and [grandmother] were daily visitors to the pool, and the boy would swim in the shallow end where the water was 3 to 4 feet deep. [Victim] was big for his age; a paramedic called to the scene initially radioed the local hospital that the boy was believed to be about 15. [Aunt] said [victim] had been going to the pool since he was a toddler: “He could do the backstroke. He could swim normally.” She said her nephew “preferred to swim underwater with his goggles and his mask so he could look for treasure.”

Before his death Wednesday, he “came up to his mom and said, Mom, I love you,' and she said, I love you too,' ” [aunt] said. Then he dropped below the surface. When he didn't come up as normal, [grandmother] said tearfully, “I jumped in and grabbed him and flipped him over and then the lifeguards pulled him out.”

[Police chief] said a pathologist is expected to issue a final report in six weeks, after further examination, such as toxicology tests. In the meantime, the city-owned pool, believed to have been built in the 1960s, remains closed. [Police chief] said the police investigation should wind up in about 10 days. City officials deferred a decision on reopening the pool to the [name] YMCA, operator of the facility. YMCA Chief Executive Officer [name] said the pool “is just going to remain closed until further notice.”

[Grandmother] said officials “shouldn't keep it closed because of (the drowning). I think it was God's way of taking my son. We never know when it's our time.” [Aunt] said lifeguards are “having a tough time dealing with it. They all felt really bad. ”[Grandmother] said her grandson, who has a half-brother in [distant town], had seizures since birth. She took over his care when he was three weeks old and lived with him in [another nearby town] before moving five years ago to [town].

[Grandmother] said [victim]'s demeanor always changed dramatically and far in advance before he suffered seizures. There was no sign of that Wednesday, she said. “The doctor said [to me that] one day he could go into a seizure and never come out of it,'” [grandmother] said. “We just lived day by day and enjoyed life. It's just the way life is. God takes you when he's ready.”

[Victim], who participated in the Special Olympics for three years, attended classes for the “trainably [sic] mentally impaired” for five years - three at [name] School in [town] and the last two at [another elementary

school] in [another nearby town]. He learned basic skills designed to make him as independent as possible in adulthood, such as cooking and cleaning.

The funeral will be 2 p.m. Saturday at [name] Funeral Home. Other survivors include his sister, [name] of [town]; half-brother, [name], in [distant town]; a great-grandmother in [another distant town]; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

Contributions are being made to the [victim] Memorial Fund.

What we don’t know:

  • if, because of his history of seizures, he was required to have an attendant in the water with him
  • if, because they were aware of his challenges, the lifeguards paid special attention to him
  • if a seizure caused or contributed to the initial aquatic distress (his grandmother said that the behavioral changes that normally preceded a seizure were not present)
  • the normal lifeguard issues…frequency of in-service, positioning of guards, alertness of guards
  • how long the victim was in trouble under water before he was noticed
  • who actually saw him and responded…
  • one article says the lifeguard noticed the boy face down in about three feet of water
  • the other says the grandmother jumped in and grabbed him and flipped him over

What we do know:

  • the facility was a city pool managed under contract by a nearby YMCA
  • the victim could swim, loved to swim under water, and was well known to the lifeguards
  • whatever the initial cause of distress, drowning is cited as the cause of death in the coroner’s initial report
  • the mayor’s reported response was to note the boy’s challenges, avow that everyone was doing his/her job, and state that there had been no prior drowning at the facility…
  • the organization’s reported response did not address the tragedy… just the resulting pool closure

What we must remember:

  • it is very difficult to safeguard children while under water - are they playing or are they struggling?
  • the proper response in an aquatic emergency is to provide care for the victim and compassion for the family…not to create distance between the pool owner or administrator and the event
  • any pool we operate or manage must follow the same standards we have for our own pools
  • each lifeguard must scan all parts of his or her area of responsibility every 10 seconds… above the water, below the water, on the pool bottom, including any associated deck space
  • individuals with increased risk, e.g., those who can’t swim, have medical limitations, physical challenges, etc., must be clearly identified and more carefully watched than other bathers
  • life guarding is about watching, not ratios…what is important is not how many guards are present, but exactly what the guards are doing… if the guards aren’t watching, who is?

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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