Dive Into Summer!

As the winter days drag on and we dream of “diving” into summer, it’s a good time to learn some important lessons about staying safe at home and community pools.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death for children ages 1 to 4. Most tragedies happen in home pools. The CDC’s statistics also show that thousands of young kids each year are taken to the emergency room with nonfatal submersion injuries.

Watch Them

So how do you protect your kids while letting them enjoy the water? It may seem obvious, but experts agree that the most important thing to do is always keep an eye on children as they swim, and never leave them unattended. Eric Hammermeister, the aquatics director at the White Plains YMCA, says this ensures “if something were to happen, you can quickly react, as time is critical.”

It’s also critical never to assume that “someone else” is paying attention to what’s happening in the pool. To make sure that doesn’t happen, Hammermeister, who served in the Coast Guard for several years, recommends having a designated “water watcher” to supervise swimmers. “While designated on the water watcher shift, the parent does not use the cell phone, read, talk, etc., but acts as a lifeguard and only watches the children,” Hammermeister says. Yes, that means as hard as it may be, you have to put down your smartphone or tablet, and resist the urge to text, chat or play games. Distractions can equal disaster.

Aileen Crampton Bucciero and Fiona Crampton Kearney, sisters who own a West Harrison swim school called Aqua Tots, say the person who is watching the pool should be “on deck and prepared to intervene.” They say all children, no matter their level of swimming experience, should be supervised. “Drowning is quick, and after the initial distress, is silent.” The sisters recommend scanning the water so kids in distress can be spotted. They say keep a head count, and periodically check that count.

Hammermeister adds that all parents should be responsible for their own children, even near water where there are lifeguards. “Many parents drop children off at the pools and expect the lifeguard to be the ‘babysitter’ for the day,” he says. “While lifeguards are trained professionals, it is the parent’s responsibility for their child’s own safety.”

Safety Measures

Parents can certainly help their children be safe by teaching them water basics. The team at Aqua Tots says it’s all about “water respect.” The sisters say there should always be boundaries when it comes to the pool. “When you can go in, where you can go in, are you allowed to jump or dive, no pushing, no hiding under floats, no running, no eating in the pool, and the list goes on!” They say there should also be consequences if these rules are broken, similar to when lifeguards ask patrons to sit out if they are doing something dangerous.

Maintaining your home pool, and fitting it with the proper safety equipment, is also a “must,” according to the federal government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission. They recommend a four-foot or taller fence around the pool, along with self-closing and self-latching gates. You can install pool and gate alarms to alert you when children go near the water. It’s also important to make sure pools have proper safety covers on drains (governed by state and federal regulations).

Our experts say pool owners must keep the water clean and clear, to be able to see the bottom of the pool clearly and identify any dangers. The Aqua Tots sisters suggest taking a look in your pool before letting anyone swim.

Federal guidelines also recommend having flotation devices and life jackets on hand. But even children using flotation devices should be watched closely at all times. “Inflatable floatation devices, such as arm water wings, are not recommended,” Hammermeister says. “If something is inflatable, it is also deflatable.” He says devices approved by the U.S. Coast Guard should be used.

In the event a child does go missing, experts say to look in the pool first. Children can drown in as little as one inch of water. “Seconds count when preventing death injuries around water,” Hammermeister says. The Aqua Tots team says to have a phone nearby because, “you always want to be able to get to EMS as soon as possible.” Just remember, don’t let the phone be a distraction.

There is also one more life-saving tip that can come in handy in any number of situations: learn CPR. According to the American Heart Association, for every minute that passes without CPR, a victim’s chances of survival decrease by 7 to 10 percent.

The best advice may be this: be diligent, stay focused and know what to do in case of an emergency. You and your kids can enjoy the water, while taking simple safety steps that can make a world of difference this summer … and every summer.

Andrea White is a TV news producer and writer who lives with her family in Edgemont.