With the weather heating up and summer around the corner, local public-safety departments and organizations are kicking off various events around the Southeast Valley to reinforce pool safety in the minds of children and adults.
This year those campaigns take on a greater urgency because 2010 saw child drownings continuing a steady five-year increase Valley-wide. Ten children drowned in Maricopa County in 2006, and that number doubled last year.
The Southeast Valley has not been immune to those tragedies. Since 2000, there have been 68 water-related incidents involving children in Gilbert, including nine deaths. In Mesa, there have been 155 incidents and 33 deaths. In Chandler there have been 55 incidents and six deaths.
That slight uptick can be attributed in part to the economy, said Tiffaney Isaacson, water-safety coordinator at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
With less money to spend, parents may not be able to fix a broken lock or pool gate right away, kids may be left home alone because of child-care costs and parents may be less attentive after working a second job, she said.
“Parents need to know that there are things you can do to protect your children in any economy,” she said.
That’s where the campaigns come in.
Although some are aimed at making parents more aware of what they can and should do to protect their children around pools, others are geared toward swimming and pool-safety lessons for babies and young kids.
In the past decade, education has been centered on layers of protection: watching children, having a fence, taking swimming lessons and knowing CPR.
On Tuesday, about 1,140 first-graders from four schools in Chandler, three in Gilbert and Mesa and two in Ahwatukee will participate in the 12th annual Water Safety Day at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, hosted by the Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Water Watchers program.
The students will split into groups to watch a puppet show and a performance by a singing firefighter, make crafts, play carnival games and see firefighters, fire trucks and equipment from a dozen cities.
Druann Letter, a teacher at Kyrene de Cielo in Chandler, founded Water Watchers after her son Weston drowned in 1998 in the family swimming pool. He was almost 4.
“I was a very, very safety-conscious parent and I just thought it could never happen to me, and I think the majority of people we meet think the same thing,” Letter said.
There were reasons Letter thought Weston was safe: The child took swimming lessons. His father Tom is a firefighter and knew CPR. Weston always wore a life vest when they went to the lake.
A week after his death, Letter saw a news report of two toddler brothers who drowned, and she decided it was time to do something to educate children on water safety.
Now first-graders learn about water safety through a curriculum written by Letter, her fellow teachers at Cielo Elementary and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Students complete six lessonson basic water safety, usually three before Water Safety Day and three after.
“The event’s really a reinforcement of the concepts they’ve already learned,” Isaacson said.
Meanwhile, Fulton Homes’ 11th annual “2 Seconds is Too Long” Water Safety Dayis April 2 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kiwanis Park, Mill Avenue and All-America Way in Tempe. The carnival-themed event includes safety presentations, educational videos and demonstrations.
Free 20-minute private swimming lessons will also be available for babies and children of all ages from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. April 16 at Gold Medal Swim School, 6909 W. Ray Road, Suite 27, in Chandler. Call 480-961-7946 to register and book a time.
Families who show financial need with children under 6 who own their home and can’t afford a pool fence can call 602-631-4843 for an application.