June 30, 2022 — Six-year-old Grant Brown was not a good swimmer. His mother told the counselors when she dropped him off the first day at a day camp in North Carolina. Carolynne Brown was assured the boy would be watched.
The lifeguard, a college swimmer, never got that information, according to local reports. On that day, in July 2013, she was the only certified babysitter for about 30 campers plus adults — up to 60 swimmers in all — in the pool at the gated community’s sports center. Her sight was compromised because she didn’t have a raised chair.
Two young sisters found Grant at the bottom of the outdoor pool. Video later showed the boy struggling for 2.5 minutes. When his mother, exercising nearby, rushed to the scene, she saw CPR being tried on her son. Grant was blue.
She called her husband, Jeff Brown, PsyD, at his home in Boston, where he is a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and has a private practice. Recalling that call and Grant’s death in hospital the following night, Brown not only expresses his own shock and grief.
“Drownings are traumatic for both witnesses and parents,” he says. “Think of the poor children who found my son.”
Brown created and funds Grant’s Guards, a program that trains and certifies teens in foster care as lifeguards through the Carolina Swims Foundation.
Swimming, or just splashing around, can be one of life’s great pleasures. But drownings are a persistent fact of American life, especially for young people. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 to 4, with 425 such events in 2020, according to the CDC.
That year, 702 young people between the ages of 1 and 16 lost their lives in the water. Only car crashes were deadlier, and drowning killed six times as many children in this age group in 2020 as unintentional firearm use. (But only 39 children died of intentional drowning that year — either by homicide or suicide — while nearly 1,500 children were intentionally killed with firearms).
And “for every fatal drowning, eight more children suffer non-fatal drownings,” said Sarah Chaires, president and founder of the Carolina Swim Foundation. (Here, “drowning” does not mean death, but rather impairment of breathing due to immersion.) “And each of these drownings is preventable. »
It’s swimming season, and a hot season to boot. Experts fear young swimmers and lifeguards haven’t been in the water much because of COVID-19 and the country is experiencing a shortage of lifeguards. Here’s what parents need to know and do to have an enjoyable summer in safe water.
The most obvious but also the most important: Keep your eyes on your child in the water at all times. Every moment. It only takes 18 seconds for someone to drown. So: No reading; no telephones; no visits to the snack bar. Certainly no alcohol.
A designated adult should always have their eyes on. Go to https://poolsafety.gov/ for a free Water Watcher card on a lanyard. When you leave the service, you pass it on to the next adult.
Stay alert whether there are lifeguards or not. In any case, your child who knows how to swim well is his best protection. Start your search for lessons at the local YMCA.
“Everybody should know about CPR,” says Greg Donaldson, a communications professor at John Jay College in New York and a longtime lifeguard at Jones Beach in New York. “It only takes a few hours and you will know how to save a life. “Pay for caregivers to be trained as well. See https://redcross.org/ for classes near you.
“In blue pools, blue wetsuits can be very difficult to pick up,” says Chairs, which reduces the chances of a struggling swimmer being spotted. In lakes or ponds, black and other dark shades pose the same problem. Better? “Red, yellow, hot pink – even tiger print. Swim caps should be bright too.” (Bright orange life jackets are essential in all watercraft.)
Safety covers for drains in public swimming pools were made mandatory in 2007 after a 6-year-old child was killed by enormous suction pressure. Private pools should have them too. Drainage injuries are much rarer, but 85% of them lead to serious injuries and nearly 70% affect young children.
“If the drain cover is convex or raised, it’s compliant,” says Alan Korn, executive director of the Abbey’s Hope Charitable Foundation (named in honor of the 6-year-old) and general counsel for the National Drowning Prevention Alliance . “If it’s flat or flush, it’s dangerous.”
Tell your children to avoid drains, tie up long hair, and not wear loose clothing that could be sucked in. No one should wear jewelry in a pool or spa, for the same reason.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
When you drop your kid off at a public pool, look around, Korn says, “Does it look organized? If it doesn’t seem right, it might not be right.
According to Maria Bella, who has investigated more than 100 drownings for expert witness firm Robson Forensic, the positioning of lifeguards easily outweighs the number or ratio of guards to swimmers. “Of all the incidents where lifeguards were present, in 99.9% of them the lifeguards were not positioned correctly,” she says. Bella recommends asking pool operators if they deploy their protections based on rigorous, real-world testing. For example: have they checked if the glare on the water could obscure what is below the surface in one of their rescuers’ areas?
Other questions to ask yourself:
Have the lifeguards been certified in the pool or just online?
Do the guards have other tasks that might distract them, like picking up trash?
Is there a lifeguard on duty?
Likewise, if your child is going swimming at a friend’s house, ask the parents what safety measures are in place, including who will be supervising.
How’s your swimming? Chances are you can improve with a few lessons. Even so, don’t try to save someone yourself unless there is no one better qualified. If you go, “don’t go in the water alone,” says Donaldson. Which means: “Take anything that floats – a boogie board, a Styrofoam cooler – or you two may not be able to get back to safety.”
If you own a pool or spa, make sure you have a perimeter fence with self-locking gates on all four sides. Don’t leave toys or other fun things in the water. As Brown points out, “Most young people who drown in backyard pools aren’t wearing swimwear; they’re often in pajamas.” They came to play.
“Beach lifeguards look for rips,” says Donaldson, “those streams of whitewater that run off the shore. That’s where almost all the rescues happen.” Look for and help your children avoid rip currents. If they – or you – get caught in a rip, swimming sideways, parallel to the shore, is the way to escape.
And please, Donaldson adds: “Make sure you and your children swim in front of a lifeguard. It seems obvious, but…”