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Maryvale curbs drownings

Aggressive effort turns the tide on child deaths

Jun. 15, 2005

t can be a lethal mixture: children off from school, temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, and an unsupervised family pool.

Seven children in Maricopa County have drowned this year. But none of the kids hailed from Maryvale, the west Phoenix community once touted as the top Valley hot spot - and one of the leaders nationwide - for child drownings.

"It's not cool to be known for having so many drownings," Maryvale resident Balty Casillas said. "So I'm glad we got that off our backs. That's not what you want your community to be known for."

City officials say an aggressive bilingual water safety campaign, community outreach, free swimming lessons, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training have helped turn the tide from a high of six child drownings in 2000 to just two last year in the west Phoenix community. What's more, near drownings in Maryvale - ZIP codes 85031, 85033, 85035, and 85037 - dipped from a high of 17 in 2000 to eight last year.

Elected officials, neighborhood leaders and firefighters have lauded the effort in west Phoenix but say more can be done. They note that drowning is still among the leading causes of accidental death for young children in Arizona and remind residents of the classes that aim to keep children safe.

"We have so many programs that are either free or relatively inexpensive that can save lives," said Kelly Martin, aquatics marketing coordinator for Phoenix's Parks and Recreation Department. "Now is the time for parents to be taking advantage of them."

Balty and Susan Casillas did just that. They recently signed up their 4-year-old son James for swimming lessons after learning about the classes at a water-safety event at the Maryvale public pool last month.

"We even have our own pool with a fence, and we drained it until he learns how to swim," said Balty Casillas, who last week attended the pool when it officially opened for the summer. "Kids can get away from you, and we just didn't want to take any risks with his safety."

Drownings in the Valley typically take place from April to October. Since 2000, more than 100 Valley children have drowned. Nineteen kids drowned last year alone. But free first-aid and safety training offered at Phoenix pools, such as Cub Club, Discovery Guards and Kool Kids, have helped, city officials say.

The programs are available at most of the city's 29 pools, which are open through Aug. 7. The safety training has likely contributed to the reduction in water incidents involving kids 12 and younger, which has dipped annually since 2001.

Nowhere is that more evident than Maryvale, where outreach efforts included door-to-door firefighter visits, the installation of pool fences, lock and alarm giveaways, and Block Watch members urging parents to take CPR classes and enroll kids in swimming lessons.

Three years after Maryvale became the focus of the city's water-safety efforts, none of the area's four ZIP codes topped the list of Phoenix neighborhoods with the most child drownings.

Still, two Maryvale sisters, one 2, the other 15 months, nearly drowned in March, showing that even the most aggressive marketing campaign can't guarantee children's safety. The sisters were pulled from a backyard pool that lacked a gate. Firefighters said a neighbor who performed CPR likely saved the girls' lives.
Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
By Mel MelÚndez

Copyright 2005 Arizona Republic

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