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April 24, 1998

The two 5-year-old children, a girl and a boy, nearly drowned when they were toddlers.

Now they are sad reminders of the tragedy that can result from swimming-pool accidents, especially for the survivors.

Nique Duncan and Adam Garza were on hand Tuesday, strapped into their wheelchairs, as Valley firefighters kicked off their annual drowning-prevention campaign.

The Drowning Prevention Coalition of Central Arizona, in conjunction with fire departments throughout the Valley, is sponsoring a variety of events Saturday, known as April Pools Day.

We want to get our message out to the public," said John Harrington, a hospital administrator who heads the group. "We want to make sure that the issues of water safety and drowning awareness are before the community constantly."

Harrington has a personal incentive for the message. His 18-month-old son, Rex, drowned in the family's backyard pool in 1986.

Nique spent 15 to 20 minutes underwater in 1994 before rescuers pulled her out of a Phoenix pool. She was a normal 16-month-old before the accident.

Now she can't swallow or control her body. The little girl, who has blue eyes and a happy smile, has to be fed through a stomach tube.

Adam and his twin brother, Alex, were 2 years old in 1995 when they managed to open an enclosed patio's screen door at their Mesa home.

They wandered into a backyard pool. Alex died but Adam survived.

Like Nique, Adam suffered serious brain damage that will leave him crippled for the rest of his life.

His mother, Jessica Garza, said it wasn't easy putting Adam before the public eye, but she wanted to do so in the interest of water safety.

"I just want people to make sure that they always keep an eye on their children," she said.

Edie Mramer, a caregiver for Nique, expressed similar warnings.

"We want people to know there are kids like Nique who require 24 hour-a-day care," she said.

Last year, there were 100 water-related accidents throughout the Valley, 20 of which resulted in the deaths of young children. Firefighters are hoping for lower numbers this year, much lower.

Valley fire departments have joined forces this year to educate the public about swimming pool safety. They are Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, Glendale, Chandler, Peoria, Gilbert, Apache Junction and Rural/Metro Corp.

Mesa fire Chief Dennis Compton said firefighters will have to step up to the pulpit every year, preaching the gospel of water safety.

"Every year there are new residents, new pool owners, new parents, new baby-sitters and new grandparents," Compton said. "So it's not as if we can ever finish the job of educating people."

He said there will never be a substitute for adult supervision when children are around water.

"People tell us the same thing almost every time there is a tragedy," he said. "They say, 'We only left the child for a few seconds."'

Bob Khan, a division chief for the Phoenix Fire Department, said "Just a Few Seconds" became the theme of a drowning-prevention campaign launched in 1989, a terrible year in Phoenix for water-related accidents.

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

"We can't afford to let our guard down," he said. "If we don't start now, or pay close attention to the problem, we'll probably see those numbers up around 100 again."

Avondale Fire Chief Paul Adams said his West Valley city hasn't had a swimming-pool drowning for several years, but the city isn't about to rest on its laurels.

"We're conducting a very aggressive awareness campaign," Adams said. "We want to get out the word how critical it is to be careful with children around pools."

Roy Levenda, assistant Glendale fire chief, agreed, saying, "We need continuous reminders."

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Byline By: Brent Whiting
©Copyright 1999 Arizona Republic

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