Drowning prevention could save lives this summer

OKEECHOBEE — As the temperatures begin to rise many people will take refuge from the heat by swimming in a pool or lake, and unfortunately this also brings an increase in accidental drownings across the nation. Tragically, the highest rates of these drownings occur in children.

According to data gathered by the Florida Department of Children and Families, from 2009-2018 five children have died in Okeechobee from accidental drowning. Sadly, Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths in children between the ages of one and four. May is National Drowning Prevention month and it’s a good time to brush up on some tips that can keep you and your family safe this summer.

A few simple water safety steps can go a long way to save lives. You should stay close, always be alert and watch your children at all times. Seconds count so all parents, caregivers, and children should learn and practice survival swimming skills, CPR and have life-saving equipment such as life rings and jackets available for use. Barriers such as fencing, pool alarms, or covers should be used to help stop a child from wandering into a body of water unaccompanied. It is also important to avoid drain entrapments when swimming. Do not let your children play or swim near drains or suction outlets.

However, if a child’s hair or clothing gets caught in a drain never try to pull them out.

Instead turn off the pool pump immediately. It’s important to know where your pool pump is and how it works.

Remove any toys from your pool after you’re finished swimming. Children are attracted to toys, so any left in a pool can draw them to the water when an adult is not around to supervise. You should also teach your children how to swim from an early age.

Swimming lessons are offered in Okeechobee for ages six months and up at the Okeechobee County Sports Complex Swimming Pool in June and July. Registration for the classes starts on June 7 and 8 between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. For more information on the lessons, you’re encouraged to contact the swimming pool located in Darrell Enfinger Sports Complex at 863-467-7667. Pool manager Teal Sheffield stressed the importance of teaching young children to swim, especially when living in south Florida.

“Florida is a state that’s surrounded by water,” said Ms. Sheffield. “It rains every evening and there are so many pools and ditches around that it’s easy for something to go wrong. It’s best to teach swimming when they’re young, because when you have them in water wings it teaches them to only rely on them and then you end up having to reteach them later.”

Anna Stewart, manager of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Palm Beach County, warns against using water wings entirely.

“Water wings can be super dangerous,” explained Ms. Stewart. “They’re filled with air so they can deflate or pop and come off the child’s arm. They can give a false sense of security to both the child and the parent. You want to make sure children wear U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets that fit properly.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger, and for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Even if your children know how to swim, you should be smart and aware and never consider children “drown proof” because they’ve had swim lessons. Nothing will ever eliminate the risk of drowning.

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