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Monday, May 14, 2012

Caution urged to prevent drownings

Staff Writer
Jackie Ricciardi/File
Emergency personnel at the scene of a south Augusta child's drowning in March

Child drownings are often quick and silent deaths, but they can be prevented easily, experts say.

The top drowning-prevention measure is adult supervision. When children are swimming, parents should always designate one person to watch the water and wear a whistle on the wrist, said Rene Hopkins, the coordinator for Safe Kids East Central at the Medical College of Georgia Children’s Medical Center.

“All eyes on the water all the time; not reading a book, not answering the telephone,” she said. “Your job is to do nothing but watch the water.”

Surrounding pools by a fence with a self-closing and self-locking gate can prevent a child from accidentally falling into water when out of sight of a parent or other adult. The outside wall of a house is not a sufficient barrier to a pool, Hopkins said.

“Pools have to be protected from the child, and the child has to be protected from the pool,” she said. “The best way we can do that is four-sided fencing.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 450 children under age 4 drowned in the U.S. in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available. An additional 119 children ages 5 to 9 drowned.

Those numbers do not include deaths from complications associated with drowning, Hopkins said. Additionally, near-drownings can result in significant neurological damage and other injuries.

On May 8, a 2-year-old Aiken County girl drowned in the family swimming pool. Her father had been supervising children in the front yard when he went inside to use the bathroom for two or three minutes. Calleigh Campbell was the fourth area child to drown in less than two months.

On March 21, Daniel Stocker, 2, was discovered in a murky backyard pool while his mother was sleeping.

Hannah Ross, 7, was found at the bottom of a Fort Gordon lake April 29 after she left her house without shoes the day before.

Uriel Diaz Lazaro, 15, drowned at West Dam Recreation Area in Columbia County on April 8.

Building barriers to pool or water access delays the time that it takes a child to reach the water and provides adults more time to react, Hopkins said. Many kids who drown are not in swimming attire and were never expected to be near water.

“They’re going to be drawn to the water. They’re going to want to throw things in there,” she said.

Above-ground pools need the same fencing and gate barriers as in-ground pools.

Removing a ladder when the pool is not in use isn’t sufficient protection because children can move them back, she said.

During activities at a lake, river or ocean, children should be wearing lifejackets before they reach the dock or waterside.

Parents often prepare the boat and then put lifejackets on as they are leaving, Hopkins said.

“It only takes two seconds for the child to slip off that dock and into the water,” she said.

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