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First responders stress importance of water safety


Elizabeth Medora

NORTH VALLEY – The life-and-death importance of water safety can’t be stated enough.

On July 1, a 2-year-old died in Cave Creek after being found in a hot tub. Over the July 4 weekend, Phoenix Fire Department responded to drowning calls for two different toddlers. Both children survived, but the extent of the damage caused by lack of oxygen isn’t known. Recently, a 71-year-old man drowned in the Salt River.

“According to the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, in Maricopa and Pinal Counties between January 1 and July 5, 2016, Arizona has suffered 29 deaths in 80 water related incidents,” reported Shawn Gilleland, Public Information Officer for Rural/Metro Fire Department. Eight of those deaths were children under 6 years old.

In 2016 alone, Rural/Metro crews have responded to 451 emergency drowning or near drowning calls. Of those call, 122 cases resulted in some type of treatment and the other cases were cancelled either by the ambulance, law enforcement, or some other party, according to Gilleland.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services Bureau of Public Health Statistics Annual Report for the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, in 2014, there were 91 serious water-related incidents that occurred in the Phoenix metro area among persons of all ages, and children 0-4 years of age accounted for 43 of these incidents. Of those 43 children, 11 are known to have died, and four of those who survived suffered impairment from their injuries.

These statistics represent the tragic loss of young lives. What more can be done to prevent death or injury from drowning incidents?

“While the drowning rates have markedly improved since the 1980s and 1990s, better control of this cause of injury and death appears possible,” states the Bureau of Public Health Statistics report. “Emphasis on issues relating to supervision of children will have the greatest impact on nonfatal incidents, especially in the summertime. But, to prevent child drowning deaths (in contrast to incidents in which the child survives intact) continued attention needs to be paid to the placement of pool barriers, self-closing gates with latches, and their maintenance. Community campaigns are needed to address the incidents occurring in home pools in the summer time.”

One drowning prevention campaign keeps it as simple as ABC: A – Adult supervision, B – Barriers around pools and other standing water, and C – CPR. Adult supervision is paramount to children’s safety in water. Barriers around pools, hot tubs, and other bodies of water help keep kids out of danger. Should the child end up in a drowning situation, if the person who finds the child is able to perform CPR, the child’s chances of survival rise significantly.

“Rural/Metro Fire Department stresses the importance of adult supervision of children around water,” Gilleland said. “Rural/Metro would encourage everyone to learn CPR or Compression Only CPR, as it could save someone close to you.”

“Water safety is a family affair,” Gilleland said. “In a majority of the incidents involving a child, the child was last seen in the home and was only out of sight for less than five minutes. Statistically, drowning incidents peak in the months of June, July and August in Arizona. In Arizona, drowning is the leading cause of injury related death for children age 1 to 5.”

The potential for a drowning incident rises with two or more of these factors:

  • New parents
  • Caregivers, relatives watching children
  • New pool owners
  • Apartment complex or community pool – insufficient fence
  • Multiple children around the pool
  • Missing or insufficient barriers around the pool or in the home


Rural/Metro recommends “layer defense,” meaning multiple safeguards, including fences around pools, self-closing gates, self-closing doors to houses, child safe latch on exit doors to pools, teaching kids to swim, and never leaving children alone near the water.

“Many organizations have produced keys to preventing child drowning,” Gilleland said. “Among the most prevalent preventative action is simply watching your children around water. Adult supervision sounds so simple, but every little distraction can present a threat to your child’s life.”

Gilleland shared other important safety reminders:

  • If someone is missing, check the water first – time is critical.
  • Teach children to swim or enroll them in an ISR- INFANT SWIMMING RESOURCE self-rescue class. (Children as young as 6 months can learn to roll onto their back and float.)
  • Learn CPR!
  • Surround pools with a self-latching fence and install securable covers on hot tubs.
  • Empty buckets and use a child safety latch on toilets.
  • Never leave a child alone in the bathtub.


“Drownings are easily preventable with careful supervision and preventative efforts to secure water hazards,” Gilleland emphasized.