Accidental drowning is an acute threat here in Arizona, home of desert heat and the backyard swimming pool. By "acute," we mean life-or-death: Drowning happens quickly: It's often almost silent, and those who don't die in the water may be impaired for life.
In the hope of awakening you to these risks as the summer drowning season begins, here are just a few eye-opening numbers:
• Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages 1-4 than any other cause except birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of those drownings occur in swimming pools.
• About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger, the CDC says. For each child who drowns, another five need medical care for their injuries and, as the CDC notes, "these nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state)."
We could fill these columns and several more with statistics that would demonstrate what a dire risk accidental drowning is.
Instead, we'll just remind you that in Tucson this weekend, a 3-year-old girl died in a backyard pool on the northwest side while adults socialized nearby; hours earlier a 4-year-old boy was hospitalized after almost drowning in an east-side apartment complex pool.
This risk must be taken seriously. Here are recommendations about how to do so from the Tucson Fire Department and the CDC.
• Above everything else, provide constant, vigilant supervision when children are playing in or near the water. You're not allowed to also talk on the phone or read a book or trim the hedges. Watch, and stay close. If you're with a group of adults and children, select an adult to be the "Designated Child Watcher."
• Install perimeter fencing. Every pool inside Tucson's city limits is required by law to have a 5-foot high, permanently fixed fence that completely surrounds the perimeter of the pool. If you don't live in the city, install one anyway.
• Make sure the gates to the pool are self-closing and self-latching. Lock them when the pool's not in use.
• Remove items that children might use to climb the fence - patio furniture, storage bins, walls and landscape boulders.
• Learn CPR. Every parent and caregiver should know CPR. The Red Cross of Southern Arizona offers a variety of CPR and first aid classes. Go online to www.redcross.org/take-a-class for information.
• Make sure your children learn to swim. But don't assume that just because your child can swim, he's safe. That's not the case, so be sure to apply vigilant supervision.
And that's the bottom line: Nothing substitutes at poolside for vigilance. You have to be watching. Don't assume someone else is keeping an eye out; do it yourself, and use both eyes. Don't assume you'll be alerted to trouble by sounds like splashing or cries of distress, because that can be a fatally flawed assumption.
And remember, even children who are strong, confident swimmers can get into trouble in the water. Your job is to keep them safe.
Arizona Daily Star