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Recent child drownings highlight pool safety

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Published:   |   Updated: May 13, 2014 at 12:43 AM

With summer approaching and temperature and humidity on the rise, the sparkling clear water of a shimmering swimming pool seems too refreshing to ignore.

But with the splash and giggles come danger. Three children — all under 5 — drowned this weekend in swimming pools, from Lakeland to Riverview. A fourth child, from Brooksville, remains hospitalized after being found at the bottom of a pool.

All shared a common characteristic: An adult lost track of a child or left the child unattended for what seemed like just a moment.

That, say paramedics and those who teach child safety, is all it takes.

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As the temperature goes up, so do the number of drownings. Last year, emergency responders in the Pinellas Park Fire Department were called out on a spate of drownings and water-related near-deaths.

That prompted a series of specialized training programs this week with an emphasis on treating near-drowning victims.

came after the city’s rescuers were called out on a spate of drownings and near drownings last year.

“When parents call us, that’s usually the end product,” said District Chief Gary Berkheimer. “We need to be able to react quickly. Time is of the essence. Most of the time, the drowning victims are out of the pool and some kind of resuscitation has started. Seconds count.”

Heading out to fires and vehicle wrecks can be traumatic, but paramedics and firefighters who respond to back-yard pool drowning calls can be emotionally punched by it, he said.

“A lot of time, it hits close to home,” Berkheimer said. “Many of our first responders have young children. They have to put those feelings aside and be able to do work quickly and efficiently.”

Training this week, in the middle of National Drowning Prevention month, helps them focus on doing their jobs, he said, often amid frantic parents and relatives, and their own emotions at the sight of a dead, or near dead child.

“The worst feeling in the world,” Berkheimer said, “is when you can’t do anything.”

Four children in the Tampa Bay region this weekend slipped under the pool water, the most recent occurring at the Preserve at Alafia Apartments in Riverview on Sunday evening.

Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies said Torrey Davis was left unattended for about two minutes around the pool at the complex. When his mother returned, deputies said, she saw people gathered around the pool, yelling and pulling the 5 year-old boy out. Paramedics arrived and took him to Brandon Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 8 p.m.

He became the third child to drown in the last three days.

A fourth, from Hernando County, remained hospitalized in critical condition. Authorities said the 3-year-old was flown to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg on Sunday afternoon after being found at the bottom of a swimming pool at a home he was visiting in Brooksville.

Hernando County sheriff’s deputies said Hayden Somerstein was being supervised by an adult at a residential pool when the adult walked to a nearby shed, thinking the child was tagging along.

But the child remained at the pool. The adult ran back to the pool, pulled the child out and called 911. Paramedics performed CPR and revived the child.

On Sunday, 18-month-old Silas Lugo-Walsh of Lakeland and 2-year-old Jayvien Watkins of Zephyrhills died, two days after the cousins were found face-down in a relative’s pool in Lakeland .

Polk County sheriff’s deputies said parents of the toddlers found them Friday night face down in their grandparents’ pool.

The father of one of the boys was upstairs in the home watching a movie. The mother of one of the boys was downstairs. One grandparent was home at the time, deputies said.

At some point, the adults lost track of the children. The father who was upstairs thought they were downstairs, and the mother who was downstairs thought they were upstairs. The boys had opened a back door that closes but doesn’t latch, and the gate in the back porch was open.

Investigators don’t know how long the children were in the pool.

The best remedy besides close supervision, water safety advocates say, is teaching children to swim at an early age. Formal swimming lessons are available at numerous locations: at Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs and various private and city recreational pools.

Last year, more than 600 children were taught how to swim through Tampa’s parks and recreation department, said Greg Bayor, department director.

Classes ranged from parent/child water orientation programs for ages 6 months to 3 years, he said, and preschool classes for ages 3 to 5. There are six levels of learn-to-swim classes for ages 6 and up.

“Over 275 classes will be offered this summer at 11 Tampa parks and recreation pools,” he said. Class fees are $24 for eight lessons and include parent/child, preschool, and learn-to-swim courses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 10 people drown every day in the United States, 20 percent of them children 14 and younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.

The agency said that for every child who dies from drowning, five more receive emergency care for “nonfatal submersion injuries.”

Such injuries can lead to severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities and permanent loss of basic functioning.

Among other statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

♦  Children between 1 and 4 have the highest drowning rates. Of those children who died from an unintentional injury, more than 30 percent died from drowning and among children ages 1 to 4, most drowned in home swimming pools. Additionally, drowning is responsible for more deaths among children 1 to 4 than any other cause except for birth defects. Fatal drowning of children ages 1-14 remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury deaths. Only motor vehicle crashes claim more young victims.

♦  Many adults and children can’t swim. Research has shown that participation in formal swimming lessons can substantially reduce the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years.

The YMCA of the Suncoast’s Greater Palm Harbor Branch is one of the many places around the Tampa Bay area where swimming lessons are taught to children.

Jordyn Wood is the aquatics director there and she said the YMCA offers classes for children as young as 6 months, though those involve parents’ participation and are designed to get the child used to the water and teach the parents how to teach the child to swim. Individual lessons start at age 3.

She watched news reports this weekend of the tragedies that occurred all around the Tampa Bay area.

“Obviously, sadness is the main thing I feel,” she said. “First and foremost, honestly, it looks like all these incidents could have been prevented.

“Supervision really is the only way to prevent this stuff from happening.”

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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