Near drowning puts focus on swimming pool safety

A near-tragedy Monday in Riverside where a child almost drowned while in a swimming pool is resulting in a renewed focus on water safety as the summer begins.

As of Tuesday, all indications were that the five-year-old boy was doing well and had not sustained any serious damage. However, the incident could have been far worse. According to Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) Director of Operations Joseph Soto, a call came in Monday afternoon after 2:30 reporting the incident and saying the boy was at the bottom of the pool.

By the time an ambulance got to the scene in Riverside minutes after the call came in, GEMS Executive Director Charlee Tufts said that the boy’s mother had gone into the pool to get him and CPR was being performed on him by one of the women there. The CPR was performed immediately upon the boy being removed from the water and the GEMS response team then did advanced life support. Ms. Tufts said she believed the combination of both the CPR and the GEMS advanced life support efforts being done so quickly helped save the boy’s life. He was taken to Greenwich Hospital and then transferred to the Westchester Medical Center’s intensive care unit in Valhalla, N.Y., for observation.

Ms. Tufts said on Tuesday that there was no indication that there had been any neurological damage and the boy is expected to recover.

According to police, the incident happened during a small pool party attended by eight children with their mothers in attendance. Lt. Kraig Gray said the women were inside the home eating lunch and watching the children through a window when the boy’s mother realized she couldn’t see him anymore and ran outside. The boy was reportedly not wearing a flotation device but had been using a noodle pool toy to stay afloat. He was found below the water line in the deep end of the pool and was stiff, not breathing and turning blue. One of the mothers had taken CPR classes and did it for several minutes before the boy began spitting out large quantities of water. GEMS then was able to insure the boy could breathe on his own.

The incident was a fresh reminder about the need to focus on water safety to Greenwich resident Karen Cohn, whose six-year-old son Zachary was killed in 2007 when his arm became trapped in a pool drain and he drowned. Criminal charges were ultimately filed against Shoreline Pools Inc. CEO David Lionetti, resulting in a guilty plea from to criminally negligent homicide, because the drain was not properly installed according to established safety protocols. The Cohn family then became advocates for water safety, forming The ZAC Foundation, and since 2009 they have held ZAC Camps around the nation to stress safe swimming habits and help kids get over their fear of the water.

Those camps, which are always held locally at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, not only get kids in the pool with trained instructors, they also include a classroom component to emphasize safety tips. This is built around what Ms. Cohn calls “the ABCDs of water safety.” That covers A, as in having an adult watching when you’re in the water; B, as in barriers such as fences to keep children out of dangerous water areas like unsupervised pools; C, for safety classes that teach you how to swim; and D, for drains that children should avoid and that parents should make sure are inspected.

“It’s so important, especially in a situation like this that parents make sure their children know the ABCDs of water safety and they are aware not only what to do when something like this happens but are keeping a careful eye always on the kids in the pool,” Ms. Cohn told the Post on Tuesday. “One of the things we teach is that there has to be an adult designated as the ‘water watcher.’ That’s where one adult is designated to do nothing but keep an eye on what’s going on in the pool. You do it for like 15 minutes and then you have another parent take over for you. And during this time period the adult is entirely focused on watching the kids in the water. They don’t talk to other adults. They don’t check their phones. They’re just watching what’s happening in the pool. We even make up laminated water watcher cards you can put around your neck so kids know who’s keeping an eye on them and every time the responsibility shifts to another adult they just hand over the card.”

And these lessons, particularly having watchful parents, don’t just apply to backyard swimming pools. When you’re at a public pool, too, Ms. Cohn said parents shouldn’t just assume that the lifeguard on duty will be able to react. She said they’re very busy watching over everyone, which means there’s no substitute for a parent keeping a close eye when their child is in the water.

“As good as it sounds to lie back and read a book, that’s not what you should be doing,” Ms. Cohn said. “You have to be keeping an eye on your kids. Something can happen so quickly and you have to be paying attention.”

Ms. Cohn said the safety classes component of learning water safety also should include classes for CPR. She noted that in this incident the use of CPR at the scene could well have saved the child’s life.

“It’s important to know CPR,” Ms. Cohn said. “When you’re waiting for emergency personnel to arrive you can be saving a person’s life if you know how to do it.”

That was backed up by Ms. Tufts. GEMS has worked throughout town to train people in CPR technique and she said this incident proves how important it is for people to know it.

“It’s absolutely critical,” Ms. Tufts said. “For every minute that CPR isn’t applied there’s a 10% less chance of survival.”

To that end, GEMS is continuing to try and get people trained. Ms. Tufts said new techniques for it, relying on chest compression, makes it easier than ever. People may call GEMS at 203-637-7505 to arrange for a certified instructor to come and teach them how to do CPR. Ms. Tufts said families and local organizations as well as groups throughout neighborhoods can all take advantage of the service.

Ms. Cohn also stressed the need for people to have “family water safety plans” similar to what parents tell their children what to do in case there is a fire. She said part of that involved something as simple as adults always having a phone nearby if there is an incident so they can call for help and making sure their children know how to dial 911. But she said it’s also important for kids to know what to do in case they see someone drowning.

“You don’t just jump in the water when you see something like that,” Ms. Cohn said. “You need to guide them in out of the water using a ring buoy or a shepherd’s hook. You can even use a towel to pull them in.”

For more information about water safety, Ms. Cohn said people may visit TheZACfoundation.com, which has more about the ABCDs of water safety, as well as a pool safety checklist and a family swimming safety guide.

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