Have you ever experienced that moment when background noise becomes muffled and all you can hear is your own heartbeat? Your mouth is dry, your palms are sweating, and you can feel your pulse in your face. Then something happens to draw you into the moment where you find yourself having to react. But this time, it must be perfect. You must do everything right or someone might die. Not just someone, but a child. An innocent little life hangs in the balance. It isn’t your fault that they are in this position, but they have called you to save them.
That is what it feels like when the drowning tones come across the fire radio and the next thing you know the sirens are screaming and you are on your way to do everything in your power to save a child.
Glendale Firefighters responded to 89 drowning calls in 2020. That is slightly down from 2019 when we responded 91 times but considerably higher than 2018 when we went to 69 drowning calls. Some of these calls were false calls while others were for adults or submersions also called near drownings.
The only common denominator to these calls is that they were preventable. Drownings are preventable.
Drownings do not only happen when a child slips under the water in a pool. They happen when someone leaves a child in the bathtub to answer the phone or grab a towel. They happen when a small child’s neck is not strong enough to lift their head out of the bucket of water they fell into. Sometimes it is when a child left a toy inside the pool fence and they make their way outside, over the fence to the now floating toy. They reach for it and fall into the pool. Unable to swim with no one around to save them, discovered seconds or minutes later by a distressed loved one. All of these scenarios are tragic and heart wrenching. Regardless of why or how someone drowns, firefighters will respond. The 9-1-1 call will be placed, the dispatch will ring out and the firefighters will get on the fire truck and respond. They will show up for that family and that child 100% of the time, doing everything humanly possible to save them. We train for that moment. We practice these scenarios until it is like riding a bike. But the truth is, nothing can prepare you for it. Firefighters must manage their emotions, drown out the noise and focus on the task at hand. Save this person’s life.
Every year firefighters take to the streets, social media, and local news outlets to educate the public about how to prevent drownings. We preach that, “The A-B-C’s of water safety, Adult Supervision, Barriers and Classes are the key to not losing a child to a drowning.”
Sadly, with all of these efforts there has never been a year where the Glendale Fire Department did not respond to a drowning. There has never been a year where someone in our community has not lost a child. That is the most heartbreaking statistic there is. Perhaps, this year we can change the record books.
Editor’s note: Ashley Losch is a Captain with the Glendale Fire Department.