On Friday, April 25, at 6:07 pm, at an indoor pool in the Northeast, a 10-year-old boy blacked out after holding his breath during swim team practice, and began sinking to the bottom of the pool, unconscious.
At 7:00 pm that same day, at an outdoor pool in the Southwest, a 3-year-old boy returned to the pool after a bathroom break, and the childcare staff member did not put his life jacket back on him. He got in water over his head, submerged, and lost consciousness.
At 7:05 pm that day, at an indoor pool in the Northwest, a 5-year-old boy was found unconscious floating at the surface of the water by another swimmer. His parent was not in the pool with him, and the boy was not wearing a life jacket.
On Monday, April 28, at 6:00 pm at an outdoor pool in the Southeast, a 7-year-old boy blacked out while his friend timed how long the boy could hold his breath underwater. His friend noticed that the boy had stopped moving, and yelled for the lifeguard.
In the course of only four days, four young boys nearly lost their lives at swimming pools, with lifeguards on duty. Thanks to the quick response of swim coaches, lifeguards, and other swimmers, each child was recovered and resuscitated on the pool deck, and it appears that none of the children will be left with any permanent injury. But these incidents were too close for comfort.
To eliminate drowning deaths in lifeguarded pools, we have to intervene before a child becomes unconscious underwater. In each of these events, someone missed an opportunity to intervene. We should not have allowed long underwater breath holding—and the lifeguards should have stopped it when they saw it. We should not have allowed non-swimmers in the water without additional protection, such as a life jacket or direct parental supervision—and the lifeguards should have intervened as soon as they saw unprotected children in the water.
Put simply, we have to do better. As summer approaches, we cannot tolerate mediocrity when it comes to aquatic safety.
Layers of protection will help keep our pools safe. That means in addition to lifeguards we have to Test, Mark, and Protect all children. We should have life jackets available for non-swimmers and require them to have direct adult supervision. Camp counselors, childcare staff, parents, and anyone else at the pool must actively supervise children in their care. And lifeguards cannot wait until a child is unconscious before acting! They must be empowered to enforce the pool rules to prevent unsafe behavior and to intervene any time they see a child that is not protected in the water.
Fortunately, the four examples above did not end in a fatality. But things could have ended differently.
On Friday, May 2, a 4-year-old girl fatally drowned at a country club pool in the Southeast. Although this pool does not belong to a Redwoods consulting or insurance partner, and we don’t know all of the details, it is clear that there were insufficient layers of protection in place to keep this young girl safe in the water. Our thoughts and prayers are with the young girl’s family, friends, and her community.
Our hope is to never have to report on tragedies or near-misses such as these, but we will continue to make you aware of any fatal or non-fatal drowning events that occur at our partners’ pools or waterfronts this summer in an effort to keep us all focused on the safety of our water. Additionally, we will be hosting our State of Aquatics 2014 webinar on June 26 to present the current best practices being implemented to keep our water safe.