Pool Safety warnings

The death two weeks ago of a 2-year-old girl found in a Chandler home pool marked the second child drowning in the East Valley so far this year.

The other drowning occurred in Gilbert on May 21 when a 2-year-old child was pulled from a pool in the area of Greenfield and Elliot roads, according to Gilbert Fire and Rescue.

“After life-saving efforts aided by police and a neighbor, the child was pronounced deceased,” said department spokeswoman Jennifer Synder in an email, withholding any further information.

June, July, and August are peak times for child drownings in Arizona.

Six children, not including the Chandler girl, have drowned in Maricopa County from Jan. 1 to May 23, according to the latest data reported by Valley fire departments on the Children’s Safety Zone website. All the children were under the age of 5. 

Overall, there were 28 reported water incidents involving those who were 17 and younger so far this year.

Children’s Safety Zone first began publicizing the statistics in 2005, which also was the year with the highest number – 22 child drownings in the county. The lowest number of fatalities was in 2019 with six and 2021 ended with 20 drownings involving victims 17 and younger.

For Gilbert, 2016 was a particularly bad year with 13 water fatalities for those 17 and younger while 2013 was on the books for having the lowest number of deaths at four, according to the group.

The town in 2021 saw six deaths and remained in the single digits after 2016.

Although child drownings in Gilbert are no higher than elsewhere in the East Valley, what makes the town stands out is the lack of a law requiring residential pools to have their own fencing or barrier.  

Most Maricopa County cities require fences around pools, although there are exemptions that allow pool covers and other devices instead.

In Gilbert’s code, a pool can be entirely enclosed by a fence or by the walls of a single-family home. In 2019, Gilbert Sun News queried elected officials if they favored changing the Town’s ordinance to be more inline with their counterparts in the Valley and two – Councilwoman Aimee Yentes and then-Councilwoman Brigette Peterson, who is now mayor – were at the time not in favor of changing the code.

Not all water incidents, however, lead to fatal drownings.  

Arizona Department of Health Services reported that from 2016-20, there were 1,386 hospital admissions in Maricopa County for water-related incidents among people of all ages but children 4 and younger comprised 842 of these admissions. 

But often the nonfatal cases lead to a years, if not a lifetime, of pain and suffering for the child and their families as a result of brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation.

The annual report, which looked at fatal and non-fatal drownings, found that among incidents involving young children, swimming pools and bathtubs were the water types most commonly identified as culprits.

According to the report, in the mid-1980’s the drowning death rate of preschoolers in the state ranked first in the nation. And though Arizona has improved upon that over the past several years, drowning is still the leading cause of death among children 1-4 years of age, the report added.

Some risk factors that could lead to a water-related incident include new parents, new owners of a pool, new residents to Arizona and multiple children around a pool, according to the Children’s Safety Zone.

Gilbert Fire gave the following tips called ABCD’s of Drowning Prevention.

A - Adult Supervision:  Adult supervision is key to preventing drownings. At least one, sober, undistracted adult should always be with children in and around the water. The adult should be fully focused on the child, no reading, scrolling through their phone or doing chores while around the water.  

B – Barriers: Barriers should be in place to prevent a child from accessing the pool. Barriers can include a fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate, door locks that children are unable to reach and door alarms. Dog doors should not have direct access to the pool and should be closed to prevent children from reaching the pool. Keep tables, chairs and anything else a child could climb away from the pool fence.

C – Classes: Children should be enrolled in swimming lessons and be taught how to get out of a pool. Adults should take CPR and lifesaving classes.

D – Devices: Coast Guard approved devices such as life vests are encouraged for those who cannot swim. Inflatable floaties are toys and not considered appropriate life saving devices.

The department also warned that in-ground pools aren’t the only source that could lead to drownings, adding that a child can drown in as little as 2 inches of water. 

As a precaution, fire officials recommend that inflatable pools, buckets and tubs are emptied after use, never leave a child alone in the tub, even for a second, close toilet lids after use and keep bathroom doors closed.

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