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Child’s struggle often mimics play, delaying rescue
Many parents don’t know what a drowning victim looks like; therefore, they may be sitting poolside while their child drowns. "The biggest problem is that victim recognition is not there. I could give you case after case where parents are sitting within 15 feet of the pool and don’t recognize the drowning in progress," says Ronald R. Gilbert, JD, chairman of the Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention in Detroit.
While adults should learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to resuscitate a drowning victim, many other safety issues need to be taught as well. They include childproofing a backyard pool, providing proper supervision, and noticing the signs of drowning.
"Often, kids look like they are playing in the water when they are actually drowning," says Wendy W. Sisco, director of aquatic safety at the Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention. When people are drowning, their head will be back because they are gasping for air. In addition, they are in a vertical position with their arms outstretched to the side, and they are pushing down on the water in an effort to raise their body up above the water. Their legs generally are not very productive and there is very little kick, if any.
Victim’s yell for help a myth
It is a myth that someone in trouble will call for help. "If they are having trouble breathing and keeping the water out of their mouth, they are unable to call out for help," says Sisco. The active struggle on the surface of the water lasts from 20 to 60 seconds. Once the child is under water, an adult has about two minutes to rescue him or her before brain damage occurs. Within four to six minutes, the child will be dead.
A shepherd’s crook, which is a lightweight pole with a hook at one end, is a good lifesaving device and should be kept at the edge of the pool. It’s a good idea to have an emergency phone poolside as well, says Gilbert. Whether adults know how to administer CPR or not, the quicker an emergency medical team can get to the child, the better.
Drowning occurs in a very small window of time. At backyard barbecues, an adult may be concentrating on food on the grill or simply step inside the house to answer the telephone in the same amount of time it takes to drown. Therefore, in addition to knowing what to watch for in a drowning victim, parents need to understand that children should be supervised at all times.
Sisco also recommends that certain pool safety devices be installed. A ladder, or other means of climbing out of the pool, should be located at each end so a tired swimmer can easily exit the water. A float line separating the shallow end of the pool from the deep end helps keep weak swimmers out of trouble.
Measures to keep children out of the pool area when adults aren’t around are equally important because many children drown by gaining access to the pool area when no one is watching. All pools should have a fence or wall around them at least six feet high. The top of the fence should be designed to discourage climbing over. For example, a wood fence might have points across the top.
The fence also should be embedded into the earth at a depth of six inches or more to prevent children from digging a hole under it. Also, fence framing and braces should be on the inside of the pool enclosure so kids don’t have hand and footholds. Pool alarms can be installed that warn homeowners when a gate has been opened or activated by water movement. "The problem with the alarm system is that there has to be somebody within an audible distance. For toddlers in the home, it works, but for trespassers, the alarm may not work too well," says Gilbert.
Lawn furniture should be kept away from the outside of the fence or any other object that would aid a child in climbing over the fence. Tree limbs should be trimmed back so children cannot gain pool access via the tree.
Unsupervised play around a pool area, even for a few minutes, is dangerous as well. Children playing with boats can fall in, or if riding a tricycle, he or she can easily roll into the pool. And just because a child knows how to swim doesn’t mean they cannot drown, says Gilbert. In fact he recommends that children under the age of four not be taught to swim because it creates a false sense of security.
"Young children do not have the strength and the ability once they get into trouble to get themselves out. Their physical ability is not such that they can engage in self-rescue procedures," adds Sisco. n
For more information about drowning prevention and backyard pool safety, contact:
• Ronald R. Gilbert, JD, Chairman, Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention, or Wendy W. Sisco, Director of Aquatic Safety, 1310 Ford Building, Detroit, MI 48226-3901. Telephone: (800) 342-0330. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com. Web: www.aquaticisf.org.