Citizen Staff Writer
KATE G. STEVENS
Stacy Ritter knows there’s nothing like a cool dip in the pool as the sun blazes down in the Old Pueblo.
She also knows water can be deadly.
That’s why the mother of six has all of her children involved in swim lessons or swim teams, a move that many parents will make in the next month.
“I put them in lessons when they were 3,” Ritter said, “for the safety of being around water.” Her children are between the ages of 8 and 23.
Tucson Parks & Recreation has 27 pools offering four sessions of summer swim lessons, said Billy Sassi, Tucson Parks & Recreation aquatics program manager.
Registration catalogs for the summer will be available May 23 at any of the recreation centers, public pools, public libraries or city offices. There is a $2 registration fee. Water experts say there’s no reason why a child should drown.
“Drowning is 100 percent preventable,” said Clint Gerber, Tucson Fire Department public safety education specialist. “The biggest risk is when kids are around water without supervision.”
While knowing how to swim is a great way to have fun and prevent drownings, it’s not the only thing. Parental supervision is the most important factor, experts say.
That’s because a drowning can happen in other places besides a pool.
Some parents do not realize bathtubs, buckets of water and toilets also are dangerous, Gerber said.
The first drowning this year in Tucson involved a 4-year-old girl. She drowned in a bathtub, March 21 in the home of her legal guardian after she was left unattended.
Just last week a 9-month-old girl died two days after her mother found her in a mop bucket.
Prevention includes child-proofing toilets (locking down the lid) and emptying anything with water as soon as you are done with it, Gerber said.
“Children aren’t waterproof,” he said. “Children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water.”
Since 2000, there have been 20 drownings in Tucson and 76 near-drownings, he said.
“There has been one drowning and two near-drownings this year, and it’s not even pool season yet,” Gerber said.
The latest near-drowning happened April 19 when Springhill Apartments maintenance supervisor Atilla “Sam” Kiss saved a child’s life.
He helped revive a 3-year-old boy who nearly drowned in the apartment’s spa by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which he said he learned by watching a TV special with his wife.
Phoenix has already had an alarmingly high number – six child drownings this year, according to The Arizona Republic.
This year, the Tucson Fire Department has started an initiative called the Designated Child Watcher Program.
A supervising adult hands off a whistle that designates him or her as the child watcher to another adult taking his or her place.
While wearing that whistle, the child watcher should be doing nothing except keeping an eye on the kids in the water, Gerber said.
In addition to parental supervision, a pool gate can help.
Arizona law requires every backyard pool to have a 5-foot security fence that surrounds the pool with self-latching gates, Gerber said.
When furniture is left near the fence or the gate is not properly closed, however, a major risk continues to exist that children can get into the pool, Sassi said.
“Every barrier you have for a child is just that much more time it takes for the child to get into the water,” Sassi said. “Drowning can happen in the blink of an eye.”
It is also important for people to recognize that drownings are not as noisy as the movies make them out to be, Gerber said. People do not scream when their lungs are filling up with water.
Other prevention methods include floatation devices such as a life jacket, Sassi said.
“Anything that can be inflated can be deflated,” Sassi said, so he recommends a device that is Coast Guard-approved. “But there’s no substitute for learning how to swim.”
Pamella Valentine, a mother of two, didn’t wait until summer. She signed her 10- and 12-year-olds in winter swimming classes.
Gerber said, however, that just because children know how to swim, they can still drown.
“Go to a professional for swim lessons, so children learn pool rules with swimming and do not get overconfident,” Gerber said.
Water safety experts also recommend having at least one member of the family learn CPR.
“You really never can be too careful,” Gerber said. “If you watch your kids around water, they’re not going to drown.”
Children younger than 12 who have drowned or nearly drowned in metro Tucson*
Year – Drowned – Nearly drowned
2007 1 2
2006 2 12
2005 1 7
2004 2 14
2003 5 9
2002 4 9
2001 2 7
2000 2 15
Source: Tucson Fire Department.
*Includes densely populated areas outside city limits
• Spend time in the pool with your young child having fun before his or her first lesson.
• Sign up your child for swim lessons.
• Never leave a child unobserved around water.
• Install a telephone by the pool or keep a cordless phone with you at all times.
• Learn CPR.
• Do not rely on flotation devices; they are not foolproof.
• Keep the pool gate locked when not in use and remove nearby furniture.
• Keep basic lifesaving equipment by the pool and know how to use it.
Sources: American Red Cross, city of Tucson
CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
Swim lessons for children and adults with disabilities are available at the Edith Ball Adaptive Recreation Center at Reid Park.
The center offers a state-of-the-art covered outdoor pool, as well as a therapeutic indoor pool.
Classes there are for kids and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities.
For more information, call 791-4877.
SIGN UP FOR LESSONS
The city is using a lottery system for swim lesson sign-ups to reduce long registration lines. Here’s what you need to do:
• Go online to www.EZEEreg.com or call 573-3933 to obtain a confirmation receipt. You will be charged $2 per child per session.
• Before the first swim session, which starts May 29, take the confirmation receipt to your pool of choice between May 20 and May 24 and fill out a lottery ticket. The staff will help determine your child’s skill level. Select your top three choices of locations and times.
• On May 29, return to the pool that was your top choice to determine which class your child received. If your child was registered at a different pool, you will be notified by telephone.
• For more information and a full schedule of registration dates, log on to www.tucsonaz.gov/parksandrec.
• Metropolitan Tucson YMCA also offers summer swim lessons. Call 623-5511.
Did you know that you can hire a lifeguard for your pool party? Call the Tucson Parks & Recreation Department at 791-4245.
GET A WHISTLE
Want a whistle from the Tucson Fire Department’s Designated Child Watcher Program?
Just go to the Fire Prevention Building, 797 E. Ajo Way.
Interested in taking a CPR class? Here are a few places you can call:
• Northwest Fire/Rescue District, 887-1010
• Northwest Medical Center, 544-2000
• Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Red Cross, 318-6872
• Tucson Fire Department 623-8484