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WATERPROOF KIDS BACKYARD DROWNINGS PROD PARENTS TO REVIEW POOL SAFETY.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro Staff Writer

Swimming pools may be a summer oasis for suburban kids, but they're the most likely place for young children to drown, according to a nationwide study being released today.

But many parents didn't need a report to tell them about the dangers of backyard pools.

Following the tragic drowning death of a young boy at rocker Tommy Lee's Malibu house last month, swim lessons are in greater demand, gates and covers have been added to pools, and some parents have even hired private lifeguards for backyard parties.

``It's so scary,'' said Jacqui Dres, who was finishing up a Mommy and Me class recently at Woodcrest Preschools on Tampa Avenue in Tarzana with her 19-month son, William, while 4-year-old Caroline took a private lesson a few lanes over.

``Pool parties are probably the biggest scare - and you're right there,'' Dres said. ``Parents are yapping. ... (It's) very easy to get engrossed in a conversation, 10-15 minutes go by, they haven't even glanced at the kids. I'm guilty of it, too.''

A report being released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics provides the first nationwide tally of childhood drowning deaths to pinpoint where youngsters are most likely to drown.

Researchers from National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau found that infants are most likely to drown in the bathtub while older children and adolescents are most likely to drown in such fresh water sources as rivers, lakes or ponds.

But for toddlers, swimming pools are the most likely place.

``If you had to give one message, I'd say parents and kids need to be aware even though swimming can be a fun activity ... a fun day can turn into a tragedy very quickly,'' said the study's lead author, Dr. Ruth Brenner, an investigator at the National Institue of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md.

A 5-year-old boy drowned Friday in a backyard pool in Lancaster while only briefly away from adult supervision. On Saturday, an 11-year-old boy died at a hospital after he was found at the deep end of a swimming pool at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport, where he had been left alone for only a short time.

The drowning of a 4-year-old boy at rock drummer Tommy Lee's home during a birthday party two weeks ago has been the topic of discussion at summer pool parties across the Valley, said parents and those who work with kids.

Parents are hiring out lifeguards at $25 an hour to watch the kids, they said, and enrolling their kids in swimming classes.

``This thing with Tommy Lee, it sparked all this interest,'' said Scott Lieberman, vice president at Woodcrest Schools and a father of an 8- month-old.

Jennifer Muldoon, a parent of three boys ages 3, 5 and 7 in Bel Air, said she hired a lifeguard for the end-of-preschool party she threw two weeks ago for 18 little ones in her backyard pool.

She got the idea from another party - and said more parents are doing it.

``I had never thought about it before. When I was there I thought, what a great idea,'' she said. ``I think all the parents were just glad to have that extra level of security.''

Each year in Los Angeles County, about 120 people die from drownings, according to the Department of Health Services' Web site.

The Los Angeles City Fire Department said it responds to slightly more than 100 reported drownings each year - most at backyard pools and spas.

Among the children reported drowned, most were missing from sight for five minutes or less, said Fire Department spokesman Bob Collis.

``It's not so much the lack of attention, but the lapse of attention,'' Collis said.

The Fire Department encourages a strategy similar to designated drivers - a designated watcher whose job is to keep guard over the kids in the pool.

``You just have to have one adult watching the kids,'' he said. ``Of course if they're partying, there's alcohol, it doesn't help.''

For the study being published in the July issue of Pediatrics, researchers examined nearly 1,400 death certificates for those under age 20 who drowned in 1995.

Researchers additionally found that older African-American boys, those older than 10, had a risk of drowning in a swimming pool that was up to 15 times greater than their white peers.

They offered various explanations - public pools used by African-American youths could be less safe, with fewer lifeguards and more crowded conditions, or the children may have fewer opportunities for swimming lessons.

Brenner's group offers recommendations for all groups - fencing in backyard pools, watching kids in the tub and being sure children have swimming lessons - to help prevent tragedy.

``Even for parents who believe their kids are proficient swimmers, there's a need to take these precautions,'' Brenner said. ``It's also equally important (to know) you can't rely on that alone ... even the best swimmers could drown.''

Brett Henry operates the ABC Swim School Van Nuys and suggests nothing less than three lines of defense against backyard pools: a fence, a locked gate, another door to stop kids' access or a hard pool cover strong enough to walk on.

Henry makes house calls to teach swimming lessons in families homes, has taught nannies to swim and recently told the parents of three in Tarzana that they, too, needed lessons.

``I said, we're going to teach all five of you to swim. Trust me, if your kid falls in, that's going to be your biggest regret,'' he said.

Mulhoon, the mother of three boys, said before her family even moved into their home, they made sure the fence was up around the backyard pool. Dres said her kids aren't even allowed in the backyard unless its for supervised pool play - otherwise they play out front.

``Parents always think someone else is watching them,'' said Lindsey Knebel, who said she had a nightmare last week that her 17-month-old Tiffeni had fallen in their pool.

``There really should be more campaigns for drownings. You hear reports of it every summer. Ever summer it could have been avoided.''

Lieberman, a young father of an 8-month-old, said just last week he ordered a mesh fence for his backyard pool in Sherman Oaks after a recent family birthday party showed him how tough it can be to keep kids safe.

``The kids were just running around it, testing us - it turned out to be such a nightmare,'' he said. ``I thought, oh boy, I really need to start thinking about this.''

LIFE GUARDS

BEFORE JUMPING IN:

--Learn to swim and make sure children know how to swim.

--Designate an adult to watch children.

--Keep a telephone outside so children are not left unattended while answering calls.

--Consider a home pool safety course from the American Red Cross.

--Post emergency telephone numbers.

WHILE SWIMMING:

--Never let children swim alone.

--Watch out for the ``dangerous toos'': too tired, too cold, too much sun, too much hard playing.

--Flotation devices should complement adult supervision, not replace it.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY:

--Yell for help.

--Get the child out of the pool immediately.

--Call 911.

--Begin CPR if necessary. If no one is trained in CPR, follow the telephone instructions from the dispatcher until help arrives.

Source: American Red Cross, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Los Angeles City Fire Department

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Beginning swimmer Sara Kinney, right, receives a lesson from swim instructor Lauren Pasternack at Woodcrest Preschools in Tarzana last week.

(2 -- color) Christian Cox prepares to be launched by instructor Avi Shafshak during a swim lesson.

(3 -- color) Baylee Speery learns how to float on her back during a beginning swim lesson last week.

(4 -- color) Beginning swimmers, from left, Darien Villate, Thomas Kalinsky, Christian Cox, Baylee Speery and Megan McCanee await instruction last week at Woodcrest Preschools.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

Box: LIFE GUARDS (see text)
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jul 2, 2001
Words:1338
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