Apr 262011

As the days warm up, Southwest Valley fire departments and water-safety groups are reminding parents to keep an eye on their children around water.

Lori Schmidt, president of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, said parents need to be vigilant watching their children near pools.

“It really becomes a supervision issue right now,” she said.

Southwest Valley fire departments are partnering with the coalition to promote its annual April Pools campaign and educate residents about how to stay safe around water.

Groups, including the Southwest Valley Family YMCA and Goodyear Fire Department, will visit elementary schools this month to teach students about water safety. The YMCA, in Goodyear, is holding free water-safety classes the week of April 11.

slideshow Swimming at the Southwest Valley Family YMCA in Goodyear

“It’s really a kickoff for summer . . . just to really stress the importance of water safety and the basic pool rules,” said Kristina Campbell, aquatics director at the YMCA.

Many parents get complacent and think a drowning incident won’t happen to them or their child, said Tanja Tanner, community education coordinator for the Goodyear Fire Department.

But parents need to watch their child and put up multiple barriers to the water, including a fence, locked door and net, she said.

“Kids will find a way to get to the water,” Tanner said. “It happens to everybody. . . . Just don’t let your guard down.”

There were six reported near drownings last year in the Southwest Valley, and no drownings, according to local fire departments. So far this year, there has been one near drowning in Buckeye.

Putting children in formal swim lessons at an early age is a good way for both parents and children to learn about water safety, Schmidt said.

“(Parents) start paying more attention to the ability of their child’s swimming,” she said. “They make sure that they have all of those layers of protection in place, and they tend less to believe in the drown-proofing than those who have taught their kid to swim.”

Goodyear, Buckeye and Tolleson offer swim lessons through their parks and recreation departments. The Goodyear YMCA offers year-round swim lessons for children and teenagers.

Campbell said it is vital for children to understand water-safety rules.

“It’s not so much you need to learn how to swim freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. It’s more of the water-safety concept, knowing when it’s safe to be out there and what to do in an emergency,” she said.

Water incidents also happen to adults, and Schmidt said those often are fatal.

One of the six near drownings in the Southwest Valley last year was an adult, fire records show.

“A lot of our adults are swimming alone and we have a lot of adults who are swimming impaired – and that can be alcohol, recreational drugs, or it can be medication,” she said.

Schmidt said many adults don’t believe they could drown so they don’t take necessary safety measures. But people still need to be cautious.

“You need to use your brain. You’re not drown-proof either,” she said. “Make sure that somebody knows where you are and can help you if you’re in the water and get into trouble.”

The drowning rate for young children in Maricopa County has decreased over the last several years, despite an increase in the population, according to an annual report by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Schmidt said the decrease indicates water-safety awareness efforts are working, but there still is more to do.

“Obviously, we’d like to get down to zero because drowning is 100 percent preventable. It’s not something that we have to endure every single year,” she said. “We just need to have people paying attention and taking advantage of the information that’s out there.”

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