In October, a Coral Springs mother dove into the pool at her apartment complex in an attempt to save her five-year-old, who was floundering. But mom couldn’t swim and both lost their lives. Then in November, a Lauderhill toddler wandered from his great-grandparents’ home and drowned in a neglected, overgrown pool nearby.
“These deaths were tragedies but they teach lessons that could save lives,” says Cassie McGovern, Manager of the Drowning Prevention program at the Florida Department of Health in Broward County (DOH-Broward).
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of accidental death among children under age 5.
The best protections, of course, are for an adult to watch children exclusively every minute they are around water, and to set up “layers of protection” such as pool fences, locking gates, door alarms and rescue tools. Swimming lessons for the children and adults can help.
The mother’s death shines a light on a rule everyone should follow in a water emergency: Don’t go jump in to rescue someone unless you are an excellent swimmer. The person in trouble is desperate and struggling, and can pull a potential rescuer under the water.
McGovern says the best approach is to find a floating device – life preserver, pole, ladder, tree branch, etc. – that you can use to pull the person out of the water or keep them afloat. And, call for help.
The mother-child drowning was not the only risky rescue attempt. Two days after the deaths, a North Lauderdale woman jumped into a neighborhood lake trying to save her two-year-old great-grandchild, but went under, too. Luckily, a witness summoned a Broward Sheriff’s deputy living nearby, who was able to pull both of them from the lake. Both recovered.
The death of the Lauderhill toddler re-emphasizes the danger of neglected pools. Most adults are grossed out by the sight of a neglected pool with water that may be green and slimy, and may assume no one would go near the ugly water. But that’s not always true of toddlers. They may be just as fascinated with filthy water as they are with a sparkling clean pool. Too often, the results are fatal. For one thing, it’s harder to see children struggling if the water is dark.
DOH-Broward urges people to be extra vigilant if a pool becomes abandoned. Call the city or county code compliance offices, which can issue violations to the property owner in an attempt to safeguard the pool. Be persistent if action is slow. But be aware that solutions may be difficult, especially if the home is in foreclosure.
If the stagnant water spawns a swarm of mosquitoes, you can call DOH-Broward Environmental Health at 954-467-4700, Ext. 4201. An inspector will visit the pool along with county mosquito control to kill the bugs and the larvae.
Safeguarding abandoned pools won’t end drowning deaths, McGovern says, but it may help prevent one.