The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that, “On average, 26 children drown in pools and spas during the week of July 4th. ... According to media reports and data compiled from USA Swimming, since Memorial Day this year, 72 children younger than 15 have tragically drowned in a swimming pool or spa.”
In an effort to reduce the number of drownings by 50 percent over the next three to five years and in honor of celebrating 100 years in swim safety education, the Red Cross has started a new national campaign to teach a total of 50,000 more individuals in 50 selected cities across 19 states how to swim.
Cities were chosen based on their high number of fatal drownings or overall drowning rates, with Birmingham’s rate greater than the national average and Mobile’s more than double the national average.
A national public opinion survey was conducted for the Red Cross during the month of April that shows 80 percent of Americans said they could swim, yet only 56 percent of the self-described swimmers could perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life. The basic water safety skills, also known as “water competency,” are stepping or jumping into the water over your head, returning to the surface and floating or treading water for one minute, turning around in a full circle and finding an exit, swimming 25 yards to an exit and exiting from the water (if in a pool, being able to exit without using a ladder).
Pam Fikes, executive director of the American Red Cross’ Walker-Marion chapter, said her chapter has volunteers trained to teach water safety, including lessons taught through the Walker County and Jasper City school districts and through Red Cross board member Stacy Banks, who is the Memorial Park Natatorium manager.
“Summer fun can turn to tragedy when people aren’t comfortable in the water. Many people believe they can swim, but their abilities aren’t strong enough to save them in an emergency,” Fikes said. “We hope everyone will hear our message and ensure their family members can swim well. We also want everyone to know what to do when there is a swimming emergency by taking a CPR course. You can save a life.”
The Red Cross suggests the following 10 ways individuals can stay safe while enjoying the water this summer:
•Learn to swim and only swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
•Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone.
•Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
•Provide close and constant attention to children and inexperienced swimmers you are supervising in or near the water. Avoid distractions while supervising.
•Limit the amount of direct sunlight received between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15. Reapply often.
•Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water regularly, even if not thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine.
•For a backyard pool, have appropriate equipment, such as reaching or throwing equipment, a cell phone, life jackets and a first aid kit.
•Secure the backyard pool with appropriate barriers, including four-sided fencing.
•Know how and when to call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
•Never leave a young child unattended near water, and do not trust a child’s life to another child. Teach children to always ask permission to go near water. If a child is missing, check the water first.
A free Red Cross Swim App is available to download that teaches water safety and drowning prevention information, along with a free First Aid App that gives advice for everyday emergencies. There is also an online safety course for pool and hot tub owners developed by the Red Cross and National Swimming Pool Foundation at HomePoolEssentials.org. For more information on water safety, visit redcross.org.