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3 holiday near-drownings add to mounting toll in Gilbert

July 9, 2009

Fourth of July weekend celebrations around backyard swimming pools nearly proved deadly for three children, who pushed Gilbert's number of near-drownings this year to eight.

About 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the family a 2-year-old found the girl floating face down in the pool at a home on the 1400 block of S. Corrine Drive, according to Gilbert fire officials. Several adults were present at the time.

Family members declined comment, except to say the adults "lost track of her" and the girl is "perfectly fine."

Two hours later, firefighters arrived to the 2300 block of E. Manor Drive, where a 3-year-old girl was spotted on the bottom of the pool for more than a minute, according to fire officials. Fire crews found the child alert, but with low oxygen levels.

The third incident involved a 23-month-old girl who was pulled from a community pool Sunday near E. Stonebridge Drive and N. Riata Street.

In addition to eight near-drowning incidents this year, another child died - a 3-year-old boy who on April 3 was visiting with family and was hours from flying back home.

Last year, the town had a total of nine near-drownings and two fatal incidents. Only four near-drownings and one death had occurred by July 1, 2008.

"Even though we're at that many this year, one is too many," said Gilbert Fire Capt. Mike Connor. "The patients sometimes never go home from some of these near-drownings."

Many people believe near-drownings leave the victim without any injuries, but often that's not the case, Connor said. He noted that survivors can suffer brain or other permanent injuries. There was no information on the condition of any of this year's near-drowning victims in Gilbert.

Statistics show nearly all of the town's water incidents occur in residential pools. All but one of the nine incidents this year occurred in backyard pools, as did five of the 11 incidents in 2008, and six of eight incidents in 2007.

"The leading causes of death for children are: Number one, car crashes, and number two, drownings," said Jean Machnicki, community service coordinator for Gilbert fire. "They are fascinated with water."

That curiosity can often prove most dangerous for toddlers, as the average age of those in drowning incidents this year and 2008 is about 2.5 years old.

Children have drowned in everything from bathtubs, Jacuzzis and a pet's water dish to a horse trough, which is where a 21-month-old child died in 2001.

"It really only takes a couple of inches of water and they could find themselves in trouble," Machinicki said. "Most incidents occur because there's not someone out there that's watching the kids."

Drowning and near-drowning incidents typically occur in single-family homes on weekends, and usually between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., said Tiffaney Isaacson, water safety coordinator for Water Watchers at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

Aggravating Gilbert's drowning issues is that the town doesn't require property owners to place a fence around their pool, Isaacson said. Despite fencing and other barriers, however, children still manage to find ways around them and into the water.

Isaacson says parents need to go beyond watching children near the water and practice "touch supervision," which involves keeping a child within touching distance.

"If you're reading a book [by the pool] that's not good enough," Isaacson said.

Officials agree that constant monitoring of children around water is essential, but also recommend placing them in swimming lessons and teaching them CPR.

"There's no replacement for adult supervision," Connor said. "When people have parties and there are a lot of people that adds to the confusion as to who is watching the kids."

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Astrid Galvan and Nathan Gonzalez
©Copyright 2009 Arizona Republic

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