According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), each year approximately 400 children younger than the age of 15 drown in pools and spas in the United States. Children younger than age 5 represent more than 75 percent of these occurrences. One might ask how something like this could happen; however, research reveals drowning is nothing like you may think. There is rarely splashing or screaming. Drowning is silent.
Investigative reporters from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.-based television station Fox9 developed the tagline “Drowning is Silent” as part of a public awareness campaign based on what their reporting uncovered. Reporters at the station were spurred to examine what drowning really looks like after four local young people drowned or nearly drowned in pools in the past four months, despite the presence of adults nearby.
“Under the water, no one heard nothing — not even the guy in the pool with me,” Tyler Lazerte, who slipped under water at a friend’s pool, told Fox 9 Investigator Trish Van Pilsum.
Unfortunately, most people are unaware of what a drowning person looks or sounds like – a fatal misconception that even the media perpetuates through the use of popular movies and TV shows.
“Drowning remains the leading cause of accidental death for children between the ages of 1 and 4,” said Acting CPSC Chairman Robert Adler.
Alarmed by the level of misunderstanding in the seriousness of child drownings, Fox 9 investigators organized a drowning demonstration in a busy pool with longtime swim coach and instructor Joe Foss in order to teach experienced swimmers what it may look like when someone is drowning.
Two children had been coached to simulate what it looks like when someone is drowning. Fox 9 investigators used three cameras on the pool deck and two in the water to make sure the two children pretending to drown stayed safe.
No parents noticed the children pretending to drown in the pool of swimmers. Investigators with Fox 9 report that parents’ eyes were everywhere but the pool while visiting the local water park.
“I think they think they’ll hear if their kids are in trouble,” Foss said. “This is a big mistake. There is not going to be that yelling and screaming…”
Although some might expect splashing and struggling during a drowning, the truth of the matter is that there would be no oxygen in the victim’s lungs to yell for help. What people don’t realize is that a swimmer’s first instinct is to lean his or her head back for air when drowning, but this causes more complications.
“If he looks up, it would be like uncorking the bottle. Then, the air will come out,” Foss explained. “If a child is swimming in a position like this, the hydrostatic pressure will force the air out very quickly.”
This loss of air in the lungs not only means the drowning victim loses buoyancy and begins to sink, quite naturally it also means the victim doesn’t have any air to scream for help. A person struggles unnoticed below the surface of the water, and may drown in as little as one or two minutes.
Based on what they learned during their investigation, Fox 9 has provided some water safety tips for parents and children alike during this year’s summer swimming season:
* Never swim alone – Adults and teenagers alike would be better off swimming with a friend.
* Designate a look-out – Whenever a child younger than 4 years old is in the water, an adult should be within reaching distance of the child.
* Keep a cell phone nearby – Keep a cell phone turned off or silenced while watching swimmers in the pool to avoid being distracted, but still keep one nearby in case someone needs to make an emergency 911 call.
* Don’t waste time – Whenever a child is missing, look in the pool first.
* Install alarms – In order to keep adults aware of when the pool has been reached without warning, install alarms on any door or window leading to the pool.
Following simple safety tips, and knowing what to look for when someone is in trouble in the water, can go a long way toward preventing tragedy this summer. You cannot be too vigilant.