- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006


For the first time in decades, the Phoenix area went an entire summer without a single child drowning in a swimming pool — a remarkable feat in this often-broiling desert city full of backyard places in which to take a dip.

Swimming pool accidents are typically the biggest killer of children in Phoenix and its suburbs, taking more lives than even car crashes. Last year, 22 children drowned, most of them in the summer, many of them after falling into pools. That is about average for the sprawling metropolitan area of about 3.6 million people.

But since May 14, not one child has drowned in a pool, according to the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Central Arizona, a group run by parents and rescue workers.

“Knock on wood. It’s fantastic,” said John Harrington, the group’s president.

The achievement is attributed to several preventive measures, many of them promoted by Mr. Harrington and other parents who lost children to accidental drownings: a 1991 Arizona law that requires fences around pools, a Phoenix Fire Department program that has been providing free fences for the past three years, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and pool safety classes now offered in many cities, and public service campaigns that have made “Watch your kids around water” a mantra for parents.

In a metropolitan area where the air sizzles from spring often until Halloween, so many youngsters have drowned over the years that police dispatchers developed a special whistle to alert rescue crews over the radio.

Scottsdale Fire Capt. Jim Novotny, who has been pulling children from backyard pools for 24 years, got to know that trilling sound well.

“It was getting out of control,” Capt. Novotny said. “You’re just throwing your arms up. What can we do to make people more safe around water?”

Not surprisingly, warm states lead the nation in drownings: Florida, Arizona and Mississippi averaged more than five deaths per 100,000 people each year from 2000 to 2002, said Dr. Tim Flood, an Arizona Department of Health Services statistician.



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