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New regional alliance forms to help prevent child drownings

By Staff | May 19, 2015

As May marks National Water Safety Month, several local agencies and organizations recently gathered to announce a new regional alliance in an effort to reduce child drownings.

The “Paint the Town Blue” event was held Wednesday at the Cape Coral Yacht Club to create awareness about how to prevent drownings in Lee County’s pools, canals, lakes, beaches and boatable waters. The campaign also helped kickstart National Safe Boating Week, which runs May 16-22.

Sally Kreuscher, Safe Kids Lee/Collier County coordinator for the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, explained that Lee has lacked an organized large-scale effort on the issue.

“Lee County has had minor efforts in regard to drowning prevention,” she said.

Between Jan. 1 and April 1, the Lee Memorial Health System has treated 19 children for “near submersions” – a “drowning” involves a fatality. One of the incidents took place in Cape Coral.

“Lee County is in the top 10 counties – we’re third – for drowning fatalities for kids ages 1-4,” Kreuscher said. “There is definitely a need for partnership in order to combat this issue.”

During the event, officials announced the opening of five new, life jacket loaner stations within Lee County. Children and adults who forget a life jacket can use those available, then return them.

“Families can borrow a life jacket is they go to a beach location,” she said.

The existing five stations could be found at boat ramps, like the Boathouse fuel dock at the Cape Coral Yacht Club. The newest stations, like the one at the Cape Coral Yacht Club, are located on beaches.

“These stands have everything from infant, all the way up to adult sizes,” Kreuscher said, adding that there are two dozen at each. “People shouldn’t rely on them, but they’re there if someone needs it.”

At the event, officials also offered tips for attendees to help avoid a tragedy.

“We really brought forth the need for families to be water safe and water smart,” she said.

They suggested the following:

n Actively supervising children in and around water

n Having layers of protections, like a pool fence, door alarms, life jackets and swim lessons

n Having a phone when you go outside in case of an emergency and knowing how to use the phone

n Knowing what to do in case of an emergency, such as CPR

“Florida loses three full-sized classrooms of kindergarteners to drownings every year,” Kreuscher said. “Two-thirds of Florida’s drownings actually occur at pools, so it’s really about bringing awareness.”

With Memorial Day approaching, many families may have waterside activities planned.

“Have an active water watcher so that person accepts responsibility,” she said.

Kreuscher noted that a drowning can happen in a small depth of water.

“We need to make sure we’re vigilant around water,” she said.

Danelle Ryan is the founder of Water Wise Swim School, which offers private swim lessons in Lee County and the surrounding areas. The lessons are one-on-one so students receive individual attention to learn the most. Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday, class times are set by the client.

“I know the dangers of kids just falling in for a second,” Ryan said. “Florida is in the top states in the United States to have pools and water. No matter where these kids go, there’s going to be water.”

She noted that private lessons can be tailored to the child’s progress.

“When you have group classes, there’s always going to be one or two kids who aren’t caught up with the class,” Ryan said. “This is one-on-one. It is individual.”

Water Wise utilizes a combination of swim lessons and “survival skills” depending on the child’s age. She explained that a crawling child who falls in the water cannot turn around and get to the pool’s wall.

“They need to learn how to flip over and lay on their backs,” Ryan said.

“They may be there for a long time,” she added.

Older babies are taught to “scoop.”

“We teach the child to scoop,” Ryan said. “Their arm are one foot away from that wall.”

Going underwater is practiced – a lot – with her clients.

“Each age is totally different on what they can do and what they can’t,” she said.

Water Wise can work with 6-month-olds to adults. Parents of the younger swimmers, typically ages 6 months to 13 months, are encouraged to get in the water during their child’s lessons.

“I have to train the parents to teach their children,” Ryan said.

Serving the area for about 17 years, most of her clientele has been in the Cape.

“If people don’t have their own pool, we do use other pools,” she said referring to community pools.

Ryan advised against using floaties or arm bands, which can hamper learning to swim.

“If they can’t swim, they can’t be in the pool without mom or day,” she said.

For pricing or more details, contact Water Wise at 239-600-1490 or weteachswimming.com.

Sun Splash Family Waterpark is offering a couple free water safety awareness clinics during the summer. The clinics will take place June 6 and 11, from 9 to 9:30 a.m., at the facility.

For more information on the free clinics, call (239) 574-0558.

The Cape Coral Yacht Club also offers swim lessons for children up to age 12.

For details or to register, visit online or contact (239) 542-3903.