Water Watchers & Proper Rescue Methods Can Prevent Childhood Drownings
by R.J. Garren
My older sister still laughs her head off when she tells the story about me almost drowning in a lake as a 2-year old. She and my dad were floating nearby watching me looking pretty drowsy sitting near my mom on the dock. Allegedly, I fell asleep and plopped forward into the lake and only my diaper could be seen floating on top of the water’s surface. They screamed to get my mom’s attention and she was able to reach in and pull me out quickly. My mom says she had just turned for a second to get a life jacket for me. Even though the thought of seeing me floating bottoms-up is a bit funny, drowning is not a laughing matter for those who have lost loved ones to drowning.
Fortunately I had attentive parents nearby, but all too often in this era of being easily distracted, that doesn’t happen. For many years drowning has been the number one cause of unintentional injury death for children ages four and under, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Children can drown in bathtubs, pools, buckets, ditches, and every type of body of water. It takes an average of only 20 seconds for a child to drown, but it can happen in just a few seconds.
Identifying an adult to watch children constantly around any body of water can help prevent these horrific incidents from happening. Constantly means every second and it’s best to stay within arm’s reach of children. It’s never a good idea to have older children watch younger children in the water because it can lead to more than one child drowning. It’s best for a non-trained rescuer to wear a life jacket and take another device that floats with them. Reaching out with another flotation device helps the rescuer to keep their distance from the victim increasing everyone’s chances to survive.
A rescue technique that everyone who enjoys playing around water should know is to reach, throw, but never go near anyone struggling in the water to survive. Many people drown within 10-feet of safety. Often you can reach with something (paddle, fishing pole, towel, etc.) and pull them to safety without endangering yourself. Throwing something that floats (life jacket, seat cushion, cooler, etc.) to the victim can also save them. Federal law requires boaters to have a throwable flotation device on board most vessels. Only trained lifeguards should attempt to rescue someone struggling in the water by getting close to the victim and it’s vital for them to be trained and aware of the differences between pool and open water (e.g. ponds, lakes etc.) rescue.
Several organizations have created “water watcher” or “water-guardian” water-proof cards attached to a lanyard or wristband. The card includes instructions so an adult watching the children can be informed about the importance of constantly watching. After a certain amount of time (i.e. 15 minutes) this card can be passed from one adult to another so they can take turns watching children and the card reminds them to stay attentive. These methods should especially be required in areas where lifeguards are not present, but it’s still a good idea to watch your children even when lifeguards are watching.
Other drowning prevention techniques can include early childhood swim lessons and always wearing a properly- fitted life jacket that can turn your child face up when floating in the water. However, even with swimming skills and a life jacket that fits properly, it’s still vital to watch children anywhere near water.
It’s not clear to me if my almost drowning experience had anything to do with me eventually becoming trained as a lifeguard in college or working as a park ranger and into retirement to prevent drownings on our nation’s waters for over 35 years. What I do know is that I’ve acquired a wealth of knowledge and experience on this topic. My hope is that by sharing this information more lives can be saved.