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The ABCs of drowning prevention can save lives

Posted 4/26/20

It is important to be ever vigilant around water to prevent drownings --- especially now with schools closed, and children and parents at home to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Tragedy can occur …

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The ABCs of drowning prevention can save lives


It is important to be ever vigilant around water to prevent drownings --- especially now with schools closed, and children and parents at home to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Tragedy can occur simply by leaving a bathroom door open and a toddler slipping into the tub without anyone noticing, or a toilet seat left up and a baby falling in. Or when not assigning a sober adult to watch closely at a fenced-in backyard pool.

When restrictions are lifted and east Valley residents return to a new normal, keep in mind drowning prevention when at the Salt River and area lakes, and also during storm-related flash floods.

“We are all experiencing stressful and uncertain times and we’re all in this together. However, drowning won’t stop for COVID-19 and is potentially creating a perfect storm for even more this year,” said Tina Gerola, community risk reduction specialist at the Superstition Fire and Medical District.

“Parents working from home --- distracted --- and kids out of school ---- curious and bored --- is a recipe for disaster. Staying attentive and vigilant with the safety of our children will help to bring our families out of this experience whole and healthy,” she said.

While adults and children are at home and unable to take fire department or district drowning-prevention and cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes, it is a time to learn anew or refresh skills online.

“What we would tell people now is, in this very out-of-the-ordinary time, there are resources that are available online. And specifically you can look toward online CPR classes,” Fire Chief Vance Gray, of the Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department, said.

“And it’s a good time to refresh the skills while you are at home and look at these websites for approved-training courses and refresh your skills. That’s a great tool and asset right now,” he said.

“However, what we tell people also is that when these extra-ordinary circumstances subside with the COVID-19, we will resume our free CPR courses for the Town of Queen Creek, through the Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department,” Chief Gray said.

Drowning prevention

A multi-layered system of drowning prevention begins with everyone acknowledging that drowning is a threat to our children, Ms. Gerola said.

“Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1-4 years and it is 100% preventable. I repeat, 100% preventable,” she said.

“In complete silence, drowning turns our lives upside down; in a matter of seconds and in a few inches of water. An infant left in a tub or sink. A crawling baby with access to a toilet, a filled mop bucket, dog bowl or kiddie pool. A toddler who fits through the doggie door, slips out the garage or back door, or follows you unnoticed to the backyard,” she said.

“These are some of the scenarios that play out right before the blood-curdling screams of the parents and sirens, intermix. It’s a scene that every first-responder prays they never experience, and a scene that every pool owner has to protect against. It is everyone’s responsibility to maintain a vigilance of respecting the dangers of water, in the way we enjoy it,” Ms. Gerola said.

By the numbers

There have been six deaths in 12 water-related incidents Jan. 1-March 31 in Maricopa and Pinal counties, according to statistics from the Children Safety Zone.

By age group, there was one 0- to 5-year-old “ped”; and five adults 18 or older who died in that time period. There were no deaths for age groups of children 6 to 12 or teenagers of 13 to 17, according to childrensafetyzone.com.

Water-related incidents are reported to the Children’s Safety Zone by the various fire department public information officers from across the Valley, according to the website.

No water-related incidents were reported the first three months of 2020 in Queen Creek, Apache Junction or Gold Canyon.

In the previous 11 years, 2009-19, there were 16 water-related incidents in Queen Creek and three deaths, all peds. In the same time period there were 13 water-related incidents in SFMD, which includes Apache Junction and Gold Canyon, and four deaths --- an adult and three peds/children.

The ABCs and ABCDs of drowning prevention

Superstition Fire encourages everyone to practice the ABCs of water safety and to keep water fun, Ms. Gerola, who also is a fire inspector, said.

The ABCs, she said, are:

A = Adults

“Adults are the most important component in drowning prevention. Active, sober and distraction-free adult supervision of children in and around water is life-saving. Dedicating a ‘water watcher’ at parties and large gatherings can help ensure that eyes are always on the water and the children. It takes more than one, so make sure an adult is in the water and within arms-reach of each small child and inexperienced swimmer,” Ms. Gerola said.

B = Barriers

“Barriers are anything and everything that comes between children and the water. This includes a pool fence with a self-closing gate, window and door alarms, doggie-door barriers and you. Never prop pool gates open, and be sure to remove toys from the pool area so children aren’t tempted to try to get them. Be sure to keep all barriers maintained and in good working order. A broken pool fence, is no pool fence,” she said.

C = Classes and Coast Guard approved life vests

Make sure everyone in your family knows how to swim and knows cardiopulmonary resuscitation, she said.

“Taking the time to learn these skills is life-saving. Coast Guard approved life vests should be used on small children and inexperienced swimmers at the pool, and should be used by everyone at rivers, lakes and all open water. Inflatable arm floaties and waist rings are toys and should never be used for safety,” Ms. Gerola said.

An added “D” --- as in ABCD’s of water safety --- is for devices near water including rescue rings, hooks and lifejackets.

“If you follow the A, B, Cs and A, B, C and Ds that are presented, that’s where we see positive outcomes because it is always a constant reminder to always have supervision, to have barriers in place, take or attend classes and then have those pieces of equipment or devices that are around bodies of water so that in case those are needed they can be put into play,” he said.

“So this acronym exists for those reasons to always remind people of what they should be looking for anytime they are around a body of water or when the summer months come and the water temperatures increase and everybody seems to congregate around the pools or the bodies of water. The acronym is good because it’s always a constant reminder for everybody --- whether you are a child or an adult --- of the proper safety tips and approaches you should take,” Fire Chief Gray said.

Queen Creek residents have successfully used the ABCDs of water safety in the past to avert a drowning, he said.

“Queen Creek has had instances where we have had success as a result of the A, B, C and Ds of submersion incidents,” QCFD Chief Gray said.

“We don’t have any recent examples that we can point to. We have had some in the past, whether it is a child or an adult that has experienced a submersion or a near-drowning event and have seen some success, whether it be in one of those categories or all four and usually it takes all four of those categories to be met in order to have a successful outcome,” he said.

Learn to swim

Getting children used to being in water at a young age is important and all ages should know basic skills, a local business owner said.

Dejan Simurdic, who recently opened two British Swim School locations to help parents in the area teach their children, recalls one child who began taking classes when he was less than a half a year old.

“Alex started his swimming career with us at the age of 4-months-old. Alex has a smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. He has his occasional off day, but most of the time he loves being in the water. We have rarely seen him cry,” Mr. Simurdic said.

The child has taken a swim class weekly for more than a year.

“With the consistency his mom and dad have shown --- bringing him to lessons week after week during this last year --- Alex can fall in and roll over and float by himself,” Mr. Simurdic said.

“Although he is not quite ready for the Olympics, he loves scooting around in his tube. Watch out world, Alex is on his way from being safe in the water, to the Olympic gold,” he said.

The British Swim School classes are for children as early as 3 months old, where they can learn swimming strokes and water survival skills. Mr. Simurdic’s classes are held at the LA Fitness in San Tan Valley at 40885 N. Ironwood Drive and at LA Fitness in Mesa at 2605 N. Power Road.

“We focus on survival skills before anything else because that’s what truly counts,” Mr. Simurdic said.

According to an American Red Cross survey, a majority of Americans believe they are better swimmers than they actually are, he said.

“The survey found that while 80% of Americans said they could swim, only 56% of them can perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life in the water. That means that about half of Americans are not safe in the water. Adding quality swim lessons can reduce a chance of drowning by 88%,” he said.

The five basic water-safety skills that everyone should know, he said, are:

  • Step or jump into the water over their head.
  • Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute without using a flotation device.
  • Turn around in a full circle and find an exit.
  • Swim 25 yards to the exit without stopping.
  • Be able to exit without using the ladder or pool steps.

Flash floods

The lone adult who died in a water-related incident in the first three months of 2020 was a hiker in the Tonto National Forest, northeast of Roosevelt Lake, who had been swept away during flash flooding, according to the Children Safety Zone.

The best resource for safety during flooding is FEMA, such as at fema.gov/blog/2012-03-13/turn-around-dont-drown, Constance Halonen-Wilson, Queen Creek public information officer, said.

Flooding is the leading cause of severe weather-related deaths in the U.S., claiming on average of nearly 100 lives a year, the website states.

“What we tell people is, and we refer them to the FEMA website that gives information and explains the proper approach when you have these monsoon seasons for flash-flood seasons and the dangers exist of the water flowing either where it did not exist before or in a greater capacity than it did before,” QCDMF Chief Gray said.

“And so we just always tell people: ‘Look, we always see in the media don’t cross a flooded road or a flooded body of water,’ and remind them to seek this information on those websites so that they can be informed on the dos and dont’s of those types of activities,” he said.

CPR classes

The American Red Cross has new courses that require customers to initially take an online portion and then complete the skills portion at a later date. The provisional courses are available for First Aid/CPR/AED and basic life support, according to redcross.org/take-a-class/coronavirus-information.

Both the Superstition Fire and Medical District and Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department offer CPR classes to area residents, which will be available when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Contact Community Risk Reduction Specialist Gerola at 480-982-4440, Ext. 104 for information on classes in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon or go to sfmd.az.gov/community-safety-education/cpr-first-aid.

The Town of Queen Creek offers free classes in CPR for its residents and those who live in the Queen Creek County Island Fire District. Go to queencreek.org/government/departments/fire-medical/cpr-classes.

Finding online resources for CPR is good for now, but in-person training is best, QCFMD Chief Gray said.

“We offer group courses and those are free of charge as long as they’re conducted in-town and a facility is provided. So that will resume once we are able to congregate in groups again,” he said.

“And we also feel that it is very important to pass along that in-person training is what we feel is the best, but right now the great stop-gap that is there is to use the technology and the online sources to keep your skills fresh,” QCFMD Chief Gray said.