The Quiet Danger

Drowning: The water of a swimming pool may be cool and fun, but dangers lurk -- especially for small children

Health & Fitness

July 18, 1999|By Melody Holmes | Melody Holmes,Sun Staff

On a hot summer day, nothing refreshes quite like a dip in the swimming pool.

But a pool can be a risky place, especially for children who don't know how to swim.

Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death of children in the United States; in Baltimore, a 15-year-old boy drowned in Patterson Park's pool before the city pools even opened for the summer.

According to Wendy Gordon, author of "I'm Safe! in the Water," a new children's book on swimming, "Most drownings are silent." Gordon noted that victims don't usually scream for help because once they go under the water, they do not come back up.

Gordon said it is important for parents to watch children in the water because "Most parents have very common misconceptions about children in water. Kids can drown in just a couple of inches of water in the time it takes to answer a phone call."

Even when drowning does not result in death, children may suffer brain damage or other permanent injury. It is therefore important to provide children with lessons in water safety before heading off to the pools.

Organizations such as the American Red Cross offer summer classes in swimming and water safety to kids and parents. And for $5, anyone can take a 10-hour swimming course at city swimming pools that offer it.

Porsha Harris of the Aquatics Division of the Baltimore Department of Parks and Recreation said that last year, 11,000 young swimmers were certified in the city swimming programs, which follow Red Cross program guidelines. Youngsters received certificates classifying them as one of five levels of swimmers. Level 1 swimmers are able to do things like float or walk in water and submerge their entire bodies; Level 5 swimmers are adept at diving and performing various strokes like the butterfly or breaststroke.

Harris added that people of any age can be at any level of swimming ability. She said that there is a 5-year-old swimmer who swims in the competitive league sponsored by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Harris warns, however, that "Parents should instill respect for water. The danger water presents for children can be taken too lightly."

The best advice she can give, Harris said, is to swim only during the hours pools are open, "in the presence of a lifeguard and other operational personnel. That will make for a fun, enjoyable 1999 swim season."

Tips for the pool

Here are some swimming pool safety tips from the Red Cross:

* Enroll in a swimming course.

* Never swim alone.

* Enter a pool feet first instead of head first, if you are unsure of the depth.

* Do not chew gum or eat when you swim; you could easily choke.

* Don't leave toys in the water, as they may lure a child back to the pool when parents aren't around.

* Don't try to keep up with someone with stronger swimming skills or encourage anyone to keep up with you.

* Do not run or play near a swimming pool.

* Do not rely on flotation devices to replace parental supervision of children. Such devices may shift position, lose air or slip from underneath children.

* Take a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course to be prepared in case of emergencies.

* Never drink alcohol and swim.

The Red Cross has published a variety of water safety books to supplement tips and swimming lessons. Titles include "Community Water Safety," "First Aid Fast" and "Infant and Preschool Aquatics Parents Guide." The books, and information on swimming lessons, can be obtained from the Red Cross. Call 410-746-4609 or 800-787-8002.

Pub Date: 07/18/99

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