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April 25, 2001

"Just a few seconds" is more than the theme of a drowning-prevention campaign.

It's also a reminder of an awful truth that recently hit home to a Peoria mother and her parents with almost deadly consequences. It happened April 8 when a few seconds of inattention nearly claimed the life of 2-year-old Jason Hier, who had slipped through an open arcadia door and an open pool gate and was found floating in his backyard swimming pool.

It's the kind of emergency that happens all too frequently, according to West Valley firefighters, who wage annual drowning-prevention efforts.

Last year, 210 water-related accidents occurred in the Valley, resulting in 64 deaths, 28 of them children.

Through March 31 of this year, 25 incidents have occurred, resulting in six deaths, three of them children.

The numbers have been compiled by the Children's Safety Zone, an Internet resource that has the support of Valley firefighters and the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Central Arizona.

The toll has continued to rise in April as evidenced, among other things, by drownings last week in Avondale and Mesa and Jason's brush with death.

Authorities say the numbers are horrible enough. However, they add that the figures fail to convey the grief resulting from the permanent incapacity suffered by some survivors of near drownings and the lifelong care they will need.

In Jason's case, he was in cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing when his grandfather pulled him from the pool. The boy was discovered because the family dog's barking awakened the grandfather. Authorities believe Jason had been in the water at least five minutes, and he was in critical condition when he was flown to Phoenix Children's Hospital.

As the medical helicopter rose into the air, Peoria and Glendale firefighters held little hope he would live. But last week, during a reception at the Hier home, they jostled with a playful Jason, accepted thanks from a grateful mother and grandparents and gave the boy a firefighter T-shirt.

Jason not only survived but did so without any apparent neurological or other damage.

For his mother, Teresa, and the boy's grandparents, George and Christy Hier, the brush with death dispelled one terrible misconception -- that drownings and near drownings happen only to other people.

George Hier said it's a miracle Jason survived. He also said he'll never forget the terror of spotting the boy in the pool.

"There is a message here for other people: Keep an eye on the kids," he said. "You can't take safety for granted. We just hope other people can profit from our experience."

Bob Khan, a deputy chief for the Phoenix Fire Department, said that when it comes to water safety, people can never afford to let their guard down.

"Just a Few Seconds" became the theme of a prevention campaign launched in 1989, a terrible year in Phoenix for water-related mishaps.

The next year, the education program was credited with reducing the number of emergency calls to 48, compared with 101 for 1989, Khan said.

The campaign has been embraced by departments throughout the Valley as they wage yearly efforts to stem the flow of water tragedies.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Byline: Brent Whiting
©Copyright 2001 Arizona Republic

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