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To save a life: Daisy Mountain Fire stages drowning call simulation to emphasize the importance of water safety


Elizabeth Medora

NORTH VALLEY – In the last six months, five children under 6 years old have died in drowning incidents, just in Arizona alone, according to Children’s Safety Zone. According to the CDC, every day, at least two children in the United States die due to drowning.  One child lost to drowning is too many, and local first responders are doing their best to get the word out about how to prevent these tragedies.

On May 24, the Daisy Mountain Fire Department staged a simulated drowning dispatch to drive home the importance of water safety and share information on how to prevent drownings. Firefighter/paramedics from DMFD Station #141 responded to a simulated drowning situation and went through all the steps taken on a drowning call, from the reported scene to transporting the patient to the HonorHealth Sonoran Health and Emergency Center. Foothills Focus staff was invited to accompany them on this call to help inform the community how to prevent drowning tragedies.

Ten-year-old Cody Wood filled the role of a drowning victim for this simulated call. Cody's willingness to undergo discomfort and act the part of a drowning victim offered a real-life look at drowning and brings home the message of the importance of drowning prevention in an incredibly hard-hitting way. Cody fulfilled his part of the drowning simulation perfectly, and he’s earned a huge thank you from the community for helping to protect other kids from drowning.

His parents watched something no parent wants to see: their child getting taken away in an ambulance. But they were willing to take part in this because they know how important it is. Cody’s father, DMFD Captain Matt Wood, said watching the simulation definitely “puts us out of comfort zone” but that it was absolutely worth it “if it helps someone else.”

“We don’t want any family to go through this,” Wood, who is a Community Outreach Coordinator, emphasized.

Wood stressed the importance of constant adult supervision to keep children safe around water, as well as strong barriers around pools. He also stated the vitality of CPR training so you can start resuscitation in an emergency before the first responders get to the scene; he said with good bystander CPR, “chances of survival skyrocket.”

Captain Houston Todd was part of the responding crew for the May 24 simulation dispatch. Todd also stressed the importance of everyone knowing CPR. Immediately performing CPR on someone who has been submerged in water helps push water out of the lungs and circulate oxygen. In many drowning calls, it’s unknown how long the patient has been underwater. After 4-6 minutes without oxygen, severe brain damage is likely.

“It’s all time,” Todd said. “Everything’s time.” Keeping that in mind, paramedics make the most of every second and prep as much as possible en route to the scene. As they transport the patient to the hospital, they’re constantly treating and monitoring, and, once at the hospital, provide a full report, with as much detail as is known, to the treating physicians.

As the crew is en route to this call, neither a moment nor an action is wasted. Every crewmember is focused on specific tasks, and they’re ready to go immediately once upon the scene. Since this was a simulation, this was the “slowed-down” version of their prep – yet they were engine to poolside with full equipment in seconds.

As the ambulance speeds towards the hospital, the crew works together as one on life-saving measures. Each paramedic focuses on specific tasks, and they work seamlessly together with one constant goal – save this child’s life. If the patient shows improvement, the paramedics will “watch and maintain” all the way to the hospital, constantly monitoring, testing and retesting vital signs.

Todd explained that when paramedics are on the scene of a pediatric drowning call, they will move the child under an awning or covering of some kind to block the view of media helicopters. Sparing the family as much as possible on the worst day of their lives is vital. Bystanders can assist in this by not taking photos of the scene and keeping the way clear for first responders.

Beyond the suffering of the immediate family, drowning incidents leave a painful impact for all those involved: first responders, hospital staff, neighbors. Even for those who survive a drowning incident, the chances of life-changing brain damage are very high. Life is never the same for all those involved after the trauma of a drowning or near-drowning.

DMFD Community Services Program Coordinator Paul Schickel said that drowning tragedies are painful for everyone involved.

“You go home... and you think about it,” he said.

Todd is one of the firefighters who has had to respond to a drowning call. All the first responders who have been through this kind of call have to deal with it in their own way, and his way has been to get back to work as soon as possible. The paramedics who answered the call will go back to the station together and talk about it and go home if they feel it necessary.

Though this call was a simulation, it well-represented the face of drowning: a child pale, silent, unnaturally still, in an ambulance, a hospital room. Tearful, terror-stricken family and friends nearby. Paramedics and hospital staff doing everything medically possible to save that child, while knowing that the odds are against them. No one should ever have to go through this, yet, during the summer, one drowning after another is reported, and one family after another is ripped apart by a senseless tragedy. The impact continues to the extended family, neighbors, and friends who also mourn. And the first responders and the hospital staff are left to deal with this tragedy, too – all of them share in the grief.

Preventing drowning starts with adult supervision. Nothing takes the place of constant adult supervision. The adult watching is the pool is the lifeguard, which means no alcohol, no phone time, no glancing down to post that adorable photo of the kids swimming.

Schickel listed the ABCs of drowning prevention: A – Adult supervision, B – Barriers around pools and other standing water, and C – CPR. Schickel organizes regular CPR classes through Daisy Mountain Fire. The next scheduled continuous chest compression (CCC) class is in July, and the next CPR class is in November. Schickel can schedule a special CPR class for a group of eight or more people; to set this up, contact him at

For the crew of Station #141, it’s all about saving lives, and they’re hoping that this drowning call simulation will help raise awareness and stop the senseless, preventable tragedy of drowning. Every effort is worth it, if it saves one child’s life.

Special thanks to Daisy Mountain Fire Department Community Services Program Coordinator Paul Schickel, Battalion Chief Dave Wilson, Captain Houston Todd, Engineer/EMT Jason Mickelson, Firefighter Jensen Schell, Firefighter Nick Lietz, Firefighter/Paramedic Eddie Coleman, Firefighter David Alexander, and Battalion Chief Randy Clark, and Captain Matt Wood, Tracy Wood, and Cody Wood.