As temperatures begin to creep into triple-digits, East Valley residents “ﾔ both young and old “ﾔ will become common fixtures at public and neighborhood watering holes.
With swimming pools becoming popular attractions so rises opportunities for dangers of drowning, East Valley fire department and district officials contend.
On average, year-to-date tallies of water-related incidents are in tune with previous years, but those numbers often reflect 12 months, not the first three of the year, officials say.
According to the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, there have been 18 water-related including drowning and near-drowning instances in Maricopa County with eight deaths including two children.
The Apache Junction Fire District and Queen Creek Fire Department have not reported any water-related incidents as of March 31, according to department officials.
The ABCs of drowning prevention “ﾔ a common mantra taught among East Valley fire and ambulance entities “ﾔ hinges on adult supervision, barriers and CPR classes, public safety officials say.
Barriers created and the attending of CPR classes are good ways to be proactive, but the most effective manner to prevent child drowning remains adult supervision, they say.
One mother’s tragedy
An East Valley mother, who lost her 2-year-old daughter seven years ago in a drowning incident, agreed to sit down with the Independent to tell her story so others might learn from the tragedy she endured.
This is her story:
On June 26, 2004 Corrie Simzyk of Apache Junction was enjoying a family barbecue celebrating an eighth-grade graduation.
“We just put our pool up a week prior,” she said March 30 at her Apache Junction residence. “Just like any family, we were just doing a barbecue and enjoying the day.”
With a host of family to entertain, Ms. Simzyk recalls having to go out to a local convenience store midway through the barbecue in need of grilling condiments.
“When I left everybody was inside eating hamburgers or hot dogs,” she recalled. “We were kind of detained there, but when I got home, I put down the groceries and asked, “ﾘHas anyone seen Morgan?'”
Not immediately finding her 2-year-old daughter amongst family inside, Ms. Simzyk says she ran outside heading to the newly constructed, above-ground pool.
“I instantly ran outside and found her floating,” she said of her daughter’s lifeless body.
The scene unfolded rapidly, Ms. Simzyk says.
“Both I and my brother-in-law jumped in the pool and we both pulled her out,” she said as her voice cracked recalling the tragedy. “Like any mother I just pushed everyone away and started doing CPR.”
Ms. Simzyk estimates she was gone about 10 or 15 minutes at the convenience store because she was being asked about a neighborhood boy who was known for stowing away in patron vehicles.
“They were just simple questions,” she said of the police officer’s questions in reference to the at-risk youngster. She said the boy was trying to avoid going home.
Upon discovery of Morgan, 9-1-1 calls were placed, with the Mesa Police Department the first to respond, Ms. Simzyk says. The drowning occurred when she lived in east Mesa.
“He was the first responder and I know he felt guilty,” she said of the officer who detained her at the local convenience store. “He took the passing of Morgan very personally.”
Within hours of the 9-1-1 call Morgan was pronounced dead at the hospital.
No barriers between water and child and a lack of adult supervision resulted in the needless death of a 2-year-old girl, Ms. Simzyk says.
“After it happened, that night, I couldn’t go to the house,” she said of the grief and confusion following the tragedy. “I didn’t even want to get out of bed.”
While moments of perseverance emerged, Ms. Simzyk says for years she really didn’t say much.
“The first year, I didn’t really want to talk with anyone. I just felt like I wanted to deal with this in my own way and my own time,” she said. “Since losing her and even from the time Morgan was placed in my life she gave me the strength to move on.”
Through support groups and the love and support of her family, Ms. Simzyk was slowly beginning to participate in the grieving process, she says of the first two years following the tragedy.
“I just felt like my family was falling apart,” she said of the eventual dissolution of her first marriage. “I think in my mind, it has made me a stronger person.”
Thinking back on that day and putting feelings of angst behind her, Ms. Simzyk says Morgan was a little girl that took the initiative.
“We would go to the mall and she would say, “ﾘhi’ to anyone that passed by,” she recalled of fond memories with Morgan. “She had a lot of spirit … what a happy little girl she was.”
Evolving from shuttering from the outside world to an active volunteer with the Water Watchers “ﾔ a drowning prevention program of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital “ﾔ Ms. Simzyk says the last five years have taught her a lot.
“About five years ago the Phoenix Children’s Hospital contacted me, but at that time I wanted to hold her memories in,” she said of her immediate resistance to sharing Morgan’s story.
But as time went on, Ms. Simzyk says she has learned to share Morgan’s story to help minimize the chances of her tragedy being experienced by others.
“Even today when I go through the albums I don’t want to put new photos in because once they’re done I have to close that book and I don’t want to close that book,” she said. “Now, I look forward to talking about it.”
Although it took years, Ms. Simzyk says one instant in her life immediately following the tragedy let her know Morgan’s death ought not to be in vain.
“Why do you have to do this milestone right now?” she said of the questions she silently asked her then 14-month-old son Zane after taking his first steps the day after Morgan’s drowning. “I think it was that. Seeing him was what made me realize that I can’t shut the world out.”
When it comes to avoiding child drowning, adult supervision trumps all other efforts, East Valley public safety officials agree.
“Just that leaving them alone for a second around any body of water,” Tina Gerola, Apache Junction Fire District fire and life-safety specialist, explained in a March 29 phone interview. “The last drowning we had here was in the bathtub.”
It only takes a few seconds for a child “ﾔ infant, toddler or school age “ﾔ to drown, Ms. Gerola says.
“That seems to be the common denominator. You can have every barrier and take CPR classes, but if it’s too late we cannot stress enough that you cannot take your eyes off of your children.”
Most child drowning incidents occur with more than one adult around, Ms. Gerola points out.
“I have to tell you, in my opinion, this is the most preventable death there is,” she said of what she has told family members of drowning victims. “This is preventable.”
Never assume someone else is diligently watching your child, Mr. Gerola warns.
“We can’t assume that anyone is watching,” she said. “It is preventable, but it is very easy for it to happen.”
There are no warning signs and often once you realize your child is submerged, precious minutes have already passed, according to Ms. Gerola.
“Let me tell you, drowning is silent. There is no sound to it. When a baby falls in it is just silent,” she said. “We just can’t stress that enough.”
According to Chandler Fire Capt. Jason White, in the city of Chandler “we are in a crisis situation.”
“In a typical year, we have five child-drowning incidents, but only three months in we have had six and we don’t know why,” he said at the March 29 Water Safety Day hosted by the Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
Chandler-Gilbert Community College is at 2626 E. Pecos Road in Chandler.
When asked why the sudden uptick to drowning incidents within Chandler city limits, Capt. White replied, “There is not an exact answer, but it has to stop.”
Stopping child-drowning incidents in any community is a multi-faceted effort, Capt. White says.
“All of our drowning (incidents) have been in pools with adults around in each of them. Each incident involved a child within his or her own pool,” he said of the two call outs he responded to.
A fence around a pool or a specially designed pool cover are great deterrents to child-drowning incidents, but not the answer, Capt. White says.
“That is a big step for so many “ﾔ it’s a great deterrent, but a lot of people have a false sense of security,” he said of their need, but also a barrier’s crutch.
While barriers are essential they are a step below consistent adult supervision, according to Gilbert Fire Capt. Mark Justus.
“The barriers are important, but it is a step below supervision,” he said at the March 29 Water Safety Day. “In most drowning incidents there was an adult in the area but they were preoccupied.”
Barriers are only a part of the overall life-saving education effort, Capt. Justus says.
“To me, it is eye-to-eye contact with your child,” he said. “A lot of people think the job is done once they are proficient swimmers, but that does not ensure they can self-rescue.”
Stopping child-drowning incidents has to be a group effort, Capt. Justus contends.
“I think it is preventable, but it takes a community effort by the entire neighborhood,” he said. “It’s either speaking up or doing something they know should be done.”
Queen Creek Fire Marshal Jon Spezzacatena says CPR and swim lessons are classes everyone should take at some point in their lives.
He also says skills learned in those classes could mean life and death.
“It only takes a couple of seconds for (children) to drown,” he said at the March 29 Water Safety Day. “If you do know what to do it is going to give them a lot better chance of surviving a drowning.”
Depending on water temperature, it takes about four minutes for a human brain to begin getting damaged from a lack of oxygen, according to Fire Marshal Spezzacatena.
“You are looking at anywhere between four to six minutes, but after that, the brain starts to get damaged,” he said. “You just keep doing it until someone with a higher medical expertise arrives.”
CPR has changed in the last 24 months with only compressions administered without breaks to force oxygen through the mouth, Fire Marshal Spezzacatena explains.
“What they are finding out is that if you stop compressions you lose all the priming because the heart is like a pump,” he pointed out. “If you keep the pump going it is going to allow oxygen to get into the lungs.”
The American Heart Association in 2011 released new guidelines for all CPR techniques, according to Fire Marshal Spezzacatena.
Mesa Fire and Life-Safety Specialist Michelle Long says the common theme throughout child-drowning incidents is a lack of parent supervision and a lack of understanding what to do if an emergency happens.
“It can happen to anyone at anytime,” she said at the March 29 Water Safety Day. “The biggest misconception is they (the parents) think someone else is watching the kids “ﾔ that is the common denominator through all of this.”
Education is key because drowning incidents have no socioeconomic boundary to overcome, Ms. Long says.
“It doesn’t matter what your income is or what neighborhood you live in,” she said of the universal danger. “But this is not bad parenting “ﾔ you can’t point fingers.”
Educating yourself is paramount in helping put more distance between your child and a dangerous situation with a body of water.
“It makes sense when you have layers in place,” she said. “What it comes down to is having barriers between water and child, but it is preventable.”
The ABCs of water safety
“ﾢA is for adult supervision, which is critical to preventing drownings. Children who have access to water should have eye-to-eye contact with adults, and adults should never leave children alone around water.
“ﾢB is for barriers, which include fences and door locks restricting children’s access to water, acting as a second line of defense.
“ﾢC is for classes that adults should take to learn current CPR training. Children should also have swimming lessons at the appropriate age.
Source: Water Safety Day pamphlet
“ﾢNever leave a child unsupervised in the tub
“ﾢBath seats are not safety devices. They do not make children safer in the tub.
“ﾢBefore filling the tub, make sure you have everything you might need during bathtime including towels, shampoo, telephone and clothing.
Source: Water Safety Day pamphlet
“ﾢChild drownings are swift and silent. In as little as two minutes, a child will lose consciousness in the water. Neurological injury occurs within four to six minutes.
“ﾢIn Maricopa County alone, an average of four bathtub drowning incidents occur per year, with an average of one per year being fatal.
“ﾢMore than half of drownings among infants (under the age of 1) occur in bathtubs; the majority occur in the absence of adult supervision.
“ﾢFemales have a bathtub drowning rate twice that of males.
“ﾢIn at least 29 of the 292 bathtub drowning deaths reported to CPSC between 1996 and 1999, the victims were using bath seats.
“ﾢChildren can drown in an inch or two of water.
Source: Water Safety Day pamphlet
Want to know more?
For more information on water safety facts and drowning prevention efforts, events and techniques go to the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona’s website at http://www.preventdrownings.org.
East Valley water safety events/efforts
“ﾢ10 a.m. April, 16 Apache Junction Parks and Recreation Department hosts a day of water-safety activities at the Superstition Shadows Aquatic Center, 1090 W. Southern Ave. in Apache Junction.
“ﾢChandler drowning awareness campaign needs volunteers to deliver drowning awareness campaign materials to approximately 18,000 homes in Chandler. Call 480-782-2122.
“ﾢApril 30 Walk for Water Safety where East Valley officials hope to have residents distribute water safety and drowning prevention information in local neighborhoods. Call 480-412-3306.