With the school year coming to the end, many children will be packing their towels and grabbing their pool noodles, eager to get into the water.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 350 children under the age of 5 drown in pools each year, nationwide. The majority of the deaths occur in June, July and August with most of them happening in backyard pools.
Whether you're taking your child to the community pool or enjoying your own backyard pool party, it's important to brush up on poolside safety.
Public pool safety
One of the biggest mistakes Sarah Amick, aquatics safety coordinator for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, sees parents make while at the pool is not keeping an eye on young children.
Although lifeguards are on duty at public pools, Amick said don't assume someone has their eyes on your child at all times.
“A lot of times parents are distracted, on their phones or talking with other parents, and they aren't watching their children,” Amick said. “It takes but one moment for a child to slip under the water. Don't assume someone is watching your child. Keep them within arm's distance.”
It's also important to recognize the signs of someone struggling in the water, which Amick said is typically arms flailing and legs not kicking, with their head tipped back, eyes wide, and head barely above water.
While at a pool, Amick said it's important children know where their parents will be sitting, and to place a life jacket on children who cannot yet swim. Parents should also visually block out for them how far is too deep, and always keep children within eyesight.
Austin Kelly, aquatics director at the Jorgensen YMCA, said a misconception about drowning is it only happens in deep water. In reality, most drownings happen in water less than 5-feet deep.
Kelly said a child's ability to swim can change from day-to-day.
“Pool safety is something that needs to be evaluated on a daily basis, just because someone was a good swimmer yesterday does not mean they will be a good swimmer today,” Kelly said. “Illness, fatigue, stamina, environmental conditions, weather, can all play a part in someone's ability to swim.”
Before coming to a pool, Kelly recommends swimming lessons or having someone evaluate the swimming ability of young children.
The YMCA has an assessment swim test for youth members based on their ability to tread water, float on their back and observe swim strokes. Those who pass are identified as a competent swimmer.
“Talk to your children about their abilities and identify where their zones are in the pool. Meaning, mark where they need to stay because of their abilities,” Kelly said. “Have them check in regularly, this will not only help keep them safe, but hydrated and protected from sunburns.”
When in open water, such as a lake, Kelly said to always know the depth of the water and to always swim with a buddy and have personal floating devices.
Pool safety at home
According to pool safety advocates at Life Saver Pool Fence, in 77% cases of accidental drowning, the child had been seen five minutes or less before someone noticed they were missing.
To reduce drownings in pools at home, Eric Lupton, president of Life Saver Pool Fence, suggests taking extra security measures around the house.
Before moving in, install locks and on doors and windows that are high and out of reach for children, especially in areas leading to the pool.
“Some drownings happen because a parent didn't know their toddler had figured out the doorknob or lock and the simply walked out on their own,” Lupton said.
Lupton said installing alarms on doors can be helpful in notifying parents when their child exits the house.
Besides door alarms, Lupton recommends various types of pool alarms, such as surface or subsurface alarms.
“Surface pool alarms will trigger an alarm inside the home when the water's surface is broken,” Lupton said. “However, a small child could quietly walk down the pool steps and slip under water without making a big splash or setting off the alarm, so they cannot be used alone.”
Subsurface pool alarms detect disturbances beneath the surface. While it costs more, these alarms are less prone to false triggers.
Lupton said one of the best ways to protect children around pools is installing a pool fence, which should be at least four feet tall and self-latching.
The Life Saver Pool Fence is a mesh safety fence which can be removed and reinstalled by the homeowner.
“You cannot drown-proof a child, but every layer of protection that you add significantly reduces the chance of a child drowning incident. The more, the better,” Lupton said. “Of those steps, pool safety fencing is arguably the most effective at preventing fatal drowning incidents because it physically prevents access to the pool, making your pool safer for your children and your neighbors.”
While children are in the pool, Lupton said at least one “water watcher” should always be on duty, with no phones or reading materials that could distract them.
Although Amick agrees with this type of precaution, she said not to rely on gates, locks or alarms alone.
“We have seen several children Houdinis that can climb a fence, or sneak through an alarm. If you have a pool or lake you'll need to be carefully monitoring your child,” Amick said. “Not everything is childproof. Have discussions about not swimming alone, or not swimming without an adult.”
Lifeguard, CPR training
The YMCA's lifeguard training program is Red Cross certified and teaches lifeguards rescue techniques. This includes how to help someone with a severe head, neck or spinal injury, and how to properly investigate the three levels of water.
Participants also learn how to make safe judgment calls, the signs of a potential drowning victim, how to perform CPR and give first aid.
The YMCA offers lifeguard training on a monthly basis, and classes are open to the community.
To take a lifeguarding class, a person must be at least 15 years old. Other requirements include being able to swim 300 yards without stopping, retrieve a 10-pound object from nine feet of water and tread water for 2 minutes without using their hands.
To pass a lifeguarding class with the YMCA, a person must be able to perform efficient CPR, know how to remove a person from the water without moving the person's head, neck or back, and be proficient in all the water rescues.
To apply to become a lifeguard with the YMCA, go to www.fwymca.org/support-y/jobs-y.
Both Amick and Kelly recommend some sort of swimming lessons for children and CPR training for any age. The YMCA offers classes on CPR, with schedules available on its website at fwymca.org.
Where: 2400 Parnell Ave.
When: Pool opens May 25-27, June 1
Hours: 12:30-5 p.m. beginning June 1; Evening hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday 7-9 p.m.
Admission: Under Age 2 – Free; ages 2-17: $3.50 afternoon and $2 evening; Over Age 17; $4.50 afternoon and $2.50 evening
Where: Oxford Street east of Anthony Boulevard
When: Pool opens June 1
Hours: 1:30-7 p.m. beginning June 1
Admission: Under age 2: Free; ages 2-17: $2.25; over age 17: $2.75
Where: 2301 Glasgow Ave.
When: Pool opens on June 15
Hours: 12:30-5 p.m.
Admission: Under age 2: Free; ages 2-17: $2.25; over age 17: $2.25