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Pool Safety Tips: Report Finds Most Child Drownings Occur In Backyard Pools

May 23, 2013 1:34 p.m.

GUESTS:

Kathleen Reilly, Project Manager, Pool Safety Campaign, CPSC

Sue Cox, Director of Trauma and Volunteer Services, Rady Children's Hospital

Related Story: Pool Safety Tips: Report Finds Most Child Drownings Occur In Backyard Pools

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

FUDGE: I'm Tom Fudge. You're listening to Midday Edition. A new report from the consumer product safety commission shows that drowning in a pool is a common cause of accidental death in the U.S. for kids under the age of 5. And 85% of those deaths occurred at residential cools and spas. Backyard pools are well known to homeowners in warm and sunny San Diego. And as summer gets going, their use and damage will increase. An average of just under 400 pool or spa drownings have occurred every year in the US in recent years. Joining me to talk about the new report is Kathleen Reilly, project manager of the pool safety campaign for the consumer product safety commission. And Kathleen, thank you very much for being with us today.

REILLY: Well, thank you very much for inviting me to join you. I really appreciate the opportunity to tell the public about, and people in San Diego about our work, what we're doing and trying to prevent drownings.

FUDGE: Also joining me is Sue Cox, Director of Trauma and Volunteer Services at Rady Children's Hospital. Thank you very much.

COX: You're welcome.

FUDGE: And Kathleen, this report that I just mentioned has some alarming figures about child drowning. Most of these kids are very young. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you learned?

REILLY: Yes, absolutely. Every year we put out our submersion report for three or four prior years, and we find that approximately 390 children drown every year in pools and spas. And we mean children under 14 years of age. And the figure you gave before, 85% happening in backyards, that is true for the 1-4 year-olds. About 300 of children of that age drown every year in this country in pools and spas. We're only talking about pools and spas. And it is our goal to reduce this number as much as we possibly can. We believe it can be done, we believe these deaths are preventible by doing certain things.

FUDGE: Okay. And we'll talk about those things in just a moment. Sue, you heard some of the numbers from this report. Are those in line with what you know about San Diego?

COX: That absolutely is what we're seeing in San Diego also. Most kids drown in backyard pools and spas. Also bathtubs.

FUDGE: Okay. Kathleen, what's a typical drowning scenario? How do parents and witnesses explain these events?

REILLY: Most of the time, and particularly for the young children, they get away from the parent. They get away for a little while, you lose track of your 18 month old or 4-year-old. And people look frantically for them. They're very clever. Sometimes they even know how to open gates. Sometimes there's no fence, and that's one of the biggest problems. If there is no fence, then the chances of the child getting into a pool are much greater. So parents -- I was just here

MUDD: Went around the corner, and I came back and the child was in the neighbor's pool. Or sometimes they don't know where they are. And hysteria ensues, which is a natural reaction. Then the emergency is called to help save the child. CPR of course is the proper response if you can get a child before they have been in the water for too long.

FUDGE: One thing that I've heard, and this is terrifying of course, is child drownings have been called a silent death. Some people might think they could hear a child drowning. But that's typically not the case. Sue, follow up on this question about what a drowning scenario can be.

COX: In San Diego County, we see the same scenario of children getting away from their parents. Some of the scenarios we've seen are parents napping or getting up in the morning and not realizing that their children are mobile and can get out of the door. Another scenario that we see pretty frequently in San Diego with near drownings is parties. And memorial day is coming up, lots of get-togethers in the backyard, and kids can drown right in front of a group of people if nobody is watching.

FUDGE: What types of protections or barriers should we put in place if parents choose to have a pool?

COX: As Kathleen said, a lot of these scenarios have to do with children just getting out of the adults' eye. So you really have to put some barriers between the child and the pool. Exclusionary fencing, at least 5feet tall with a self-latching gate is recommended. Pool covers that are not floating pool covers but covers that are secured to the pool is another protection.

FUDGE: What's a problem with floating pool covers?

COX: They will hide a child who'd underwater. If you have a floating pool cover, it obstructs your view of the water and somebody in the water.

FUDGE: And I guess you're saying the kid can just slip through the edge.

COX: Silently, absolutely.

FUDGE: Well, Kathleen, talk about fences. Is any fence good enough or does it need to be a certain kind of fence?

REILLY: There are certain kinds of fences. And you wouldn't want to have the exterior of the fence having any kind of a foothold or anything on it where a child could lift themselves up to get cover. And the 5-foot is superior to 4-foot, which is recommended in many counties or states around the country. In addition, sometimes people put -- for instance if your back door leads out to your pool and your pool is not isolated, we recommend putting an alarm on the door so you'll know if the child has exited the house. Also dangerous are doggy doors. We saw recently actually a little 14 month old claim through a doggy door in Arizona and got into the pool and drowned. Kids are so clever. If they want to get out, they're going to get out.

FUDGE: And you suggest a lifeguard?

COX: Absolutely. Weep started a watcher program in San Diego, and that entails having a necklace around your neck, you assign it to a responsible adult. And if that adult cannot be within arms' reach of the children in the pool, they need to hand it off to another adult who will take responsibility.

FUDGE: And one thing, the neighbors' pool. Let's say you don't have a backyard pool. Do we see kids wandering next door and drowning?

REILLY: Absolutely, absolutely. And if they have had a pleasant experience in a pool in the neighborhood, they will try to return on their own. The neighbor may not have a fence, or the fence may have a hole in it, or they may not have the kind of a gate that can keep children out. And this happens frequently. Children get into those pools as well. Plus there are abandoned pools in some parts of the country. Some of them aren't even totally full. They must have several feet of water, but if a child falls into it, it's deadly. And they can drown or never be able to get out. And I just want to go back to one thing that you said, Tom, about silent. Epidemiologists and physiologists have studied this, and they know that when a body, and this is anybody, a child or adult. When you are fighting, trying to keep your head above water so you can get air, you have absolutely no ability to shout out or raise a hand and try to alert someone, perhaps an adult to do that, but a child can't. They are just trying to get some air and try to stay on the surface. That's why it's always silent.

FUDGE: One troubling fact in this report is that African American kids are much more likely to drown in a backyard pool. I assume that's because many of them don't know how to swim or more of them don't know how to swim?

REILLY: Yes, see. USA swimming has done some research that indicates that 70% of African American children, and 62% of Hispanic children cannot swim. So of course it's making them much more vulnerable. We've also learned from the red cross that about 1/3 of Americans can't swim and probably wouldn't be able to save themselves if they had to get to the side of a pool. So we are really recommending swimming lessons and making family fun of it, having adults learn it as well.

FUDGE: Sue, since you work for Rady Children's Hospital, I wanted to ask you about those situations where you are able to save a child or have a child come to your emergency ward. What can be done to revive a child who's been underwater?

COX: One of the facts that we know is that a child has 4-6 minutes without oxygen before they start to have brain damage. In many of these scenarios, we don't know the time the child has been under the water. If a child goes underwater and it's witnessed and is pulled out, they'll sputter and quaff and they're fine. But if you have a child who is unconscious, not breathing and doesn't have a heart beat, it's pretty ominous what their outcome is going to be. Even if we can revive their heart, we're not going to be able to salvage their brain.

FUDGE: And is there anything you would suggest parents do at the time they pull the child out of the water? Any training?

COX: Absolutely. CPR training for parents of young children. And even older children getting CPR children. So you have as many trained people in your household as you can.

FUDGE: Well, finally, Kathleen, I think a lot of people, a lot of parents would live to this and say having a pool isn't worth it. Are you having people not to have pools?

REILLY: No. Americans love pools, we all love pools. But if you have young children and you have a pool, you really have to take not just one precaution, many precautions. And that includes the fencing, the special gate lock that a child doesn't open. That would include teaching a young child some safety. Don't go in the pool. We have a curriculum for preschoolers that basically teaches them that. Never go in the water without your caretaker or parent. And another thing is to put an alarm on. Teach a child, if you're teaching them swimming, the first thing to teach them is to get to the side of the pool. Just dog paddle over to the side of the pool would be a wonderful thing to teach them. One last tip I'd like to recommend is if you can't swim or your abilities are questionable, you shouldn't ever try to rescue anyone. And of course rescuing a child is another thing. If there is a child in the water, you can get to them. And if you can get into deep water and get out, then you should do everything you can do to rescue them and give them CPR.

FUDGE: You should try to have a fence that doesn't have footholds and handholds, don't have that horizontal bars that can allow a kid to climb over. One last thing, Kathleen, talk about death by entrapment. What's that refer to?

REILLY: That can refer to the circulation system that cleans the pool. Generally there is a drain, and the pump that pumps the water around creates suction through the drain. There have been some very horrible accidents where children have died or been totally disabled and the reason for that being the drain was either broken or it was an old kind of drain that created this suction force. There are new kinds of drains on the markets. All public pools are required to have them. And people should speak to their pool operator who comes in to take care of their pool. If they have a residential pool, we recommend they put those on as well. There haven't been any suction deaths since we started the campaign in 2008. And we'd like to keep that the way it is.

FUDGE: Kathleen Reilly is project manager of the pool safety campaign for the consumer product safety commission which just came out with a new report about the danger of drownings particularly in backyard pools. Thank you very much.

REILLY: Thank you very much. And may I just add, it's Pools Safely, and we are poolssafely.gov. Thank you.

FUDGE: Okay, sorry about that. Sue, thank you very much for coming in.

COX: Thank you.