Seven-year-old boy using slide

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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 alert 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.


Young Boy Dies At YMCA Pool

SOUTH: 06/08/2008 – A day of summer fun ended in a tragedy Sunday. A 7-year-old boy died while swimming at the [branch name] YMCA.

The young boy was identified as [name] who was from [near-by state] but was spending the summer with his dad in [city].

[Victim] did not necessarily drown. Witnesses said he was going up and down the slide several times, and he could have bumped his head on his final trip down.

The YMCA spokesman, [name], said preliminarily it appears the child was underwater only moments. He said the child slid into the pool, went straight to the bottom, was noticed immediately by friends, and then pulled to the pavement by lifeguards.

CPR was immediately administered and a defibrillator was used on the 7-year-old. Paramedics and fire fighters were on the scene within five minutes; however, the child was unable to be saved. An off duty registered nurse also attempted to save [victim].

“I have a son who is 8-years-old myself. Our thoughts and prayers are with this family right now,” said [YMCA spokesman].

“At this time we have no idea whether this drowning was brought on by a medical condition, by the child striking his head. No one actually seeing the actual event, if there was an event where he hit his head take place. There's speculation,” said Sgt. [name].

Officials also said that the slide is under surveillance, and they hope that surveillance video will give some information about how [victim] died.


Death of child at [name] YMCA pool labeled accidental drowning

SOUTH: 06/09/2008 – Metro Police: An autopsy conducted today on the body of seven-year-old [victim] confirms that he died accidentally by drowning. [Victim] had no trauma to his body that would have contributed to his death. Likewise, no health issues were discovered.

[Victim] suffered distress Sunday afternoon in the slide area of the outdoor swimming pool at the [branch name] YMCA. Surveillance video from the

YMCA reviewed today by Youth Services Detective [name] shows periodic images of the pool from two angles. It does not show [victim] entering the water. It does, however, show a child summon a lifeguard at 2:07 p.m. The lifeguard immediately dove into the pool and brought [victim] to the surface. It is not known how long [victim] was in distress prior to the lifeguard being notified.

[Victim] was from [nearby state], but was spending the summer with his [city] father, who lives on [street].


Lifeguards suspended, one quits, after YMCA drowning

SOUTH: 06/17/2008 – A [branch name] YMCA lifeguard has resigned and another is on paid leave while an investigation continues into the drowning of a 7-year-old boy, said [name], a spokesman for YMCA [association name].

Both guards were placed on paid leave after [victim], an [nearby state] youth visiting his father in [city], was found at the bottom of the outdoor pool two weeks ago.

The lifeguard who resigned chose to leave on his own, [YMCA spokesman] said.

A lifeguard pulled [victim] from the water shortly after 2 p.m. June 8. Two other lifeguards and a registered nurse using the pool assisted with CPR.

The boy was pronounced dead at [name] Medical Center.

The medical examiner said there was no trauma to the boy’s body and he had no underlying health problems.

Nevertheless, the child’s death is still under investigation, [YMCA spokesman] said.

YMCA officials are working closely with [name], an insurance underwriter considered expert in aquatic safety, training, and accidents, he said. A report is due in a couple of days.

“They are interviewing witnesses and sorting through the timeline,” he said.

The pool closed briefly after the drowning but has reopened.


What published sources tell us:

  • Early articles insinuated that the cause of death was possibly other than drowning and provided speculation about causes but did not describe the scene or the incident in any detail
  • The victim was a seven-year-old boy who had been playing on a slide that terminated over water 10’ deep (depth gleaned from an article not cited).
  • There were no witnesses identified in the newspapers who saw him enter the water that had any time awareness so the actual time that he was submerged is not known with certainty. Some children were quoted in an article not cited above as saying that “when he went in the water he went straight to the bottom of the pool.“
  • A child notified the lifeguard that there was a boy on the bottom of the pool
  • The lifeguard responded, CPR was administered, an AED was used, and paramedics were on the scene within five minutes
  • Later articles reported that the autopsy stated that death was by drowning and that neither existing health issues nor trauma contributed to his death

What published sources don’t tell us:

  • Important information that the newspaper articles did not report…
    • The pool – size, configuration, presence or location of safety float lines, etc.
    • The scenario – number of swimmers, how many were kids, if any had special-needs, water clarity and surface obscurity, extent of glare, etc.
    • The lifeguards – their training, placement, or specific activities; an article not cited indicated that there were seven on-duty lifeguards but did not describe their placement or duties
    • The protocols – existence of a swim testing and marking policy in general or specifically for those who want to go into the deep water; if the policy exists, whether this specific young man was tested.
  • Why the young man drowned – though we don’t know exactly how long he was under water, the maximum appears so short that the tragic outcome is unexpected

What we must consider:

  • Lifeguarding is difficult work…
    • It takes dedicated individuals who aggressively search their assigned portion of the pool from bottom to top constantly the entire time they are on duty
    • It takes individuals who are mature enough to place the welfare of those whom they are hired to protect above their own interests and concerns while they are on duty
    • It takes individuals who are assertive and confident enough to…
      • change their position when glare interferes with their view *politely correct the behavior of any adults or children who are acting in a manner that endangers themselves or others *jump into the water when there is something on the bottom that they cannot clearly identify without concern of being wrong or of rescuing a sweatshirt – “When in doubt, check it out!” *close a pool if conditions become such that they feel it is unsafe, regardless of the flack and abuse they will certainly receive from some of the swimmers and/or observers
  • It takes management that… *carefully screens, selects, and hires its lifeguards – based on their abilities and aptitudes, not on the fact that they applied for the job *rigorously trains, retrains, and monitors its guards and provides them with every asset necessary to perform with excellence *publicly recognizes and celebrates excellence *publicly supports difficult decisions that guards were forced to make without the benefit of supervisors’ input
  • We must change history – the safety of those who use our pools depends on it…
    • We must eliminate death by drowning in our pools – we may not be able to prevent someone from dying of a heart attack or stroke while swimming, but we can prevent drowning after such an event, or after having hit their head on a diving board, slide, or someone else’s head
    • We must change who recognizes distressed swimmers in our pools… historically patrons have overwhelmingly been the ones who notify the lifeguards that assistance is needed by a swimmer in distress *lifeguards who are actively and aggressively scanning their area of responsibility from the bottom to the top should reverse that statistic – that is why we place them on our pool decks – that is why we call them *lifeguards instead of lifesavers.

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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