Local drownings prompt experts’ advice

A new Red Cross First Aid app gives step-by-step instructions on how to give CPR. (Maddi Dayton)

Riley Northup was found on June 3 unconscious in a neighbor’s pool. The 3-year-old girl died in the hospital later that day.

Sixteen-year-old Cole Merrill did a back flip off of an old iron bridge in Lehi on July 7 but did not resurface. His body was recovered about two hours later.

Boy Scout leader Wesley Robert Kratzer drowned after saving a struggling scout in Salem Pond in Utah County on July 18. He was 22 years old and had been married for less than six months.

About 10 people die each day nationally from drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is about 3,536 fatal drownings annually.

The Utah Department of Health estimates 26 people in Utah die annually from unintentional drowning. Children 4 years old and younger have the highest drowning rates in Utah.

Forty-three percent of child drownings in Utah happen in open bodies of water, 30 percent happen in pools, 18 percent happen in bathtubs and nine percent happen in “other” situations, according to the Utah Department of Health.

For every child who dies from drowning, there is an average of five other children who receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion in water.

“Fortunately, many drowning situations can be avoided with good planning and being prepared. Learning and using water smarts can help prevent drowning, which can happen within just a few short moments,” said Rich Woodruff, the Red Cross director of communications and marketing for the Utah and Nevada region.

Unfortunately, there is little that can prevent the situation from becoming fatal once someone begins to drown. Survival largely depends on the speed at which someone is taken out of the water and given proper resuscitation. Therefore, prevention is vital, according to the World Health Organization.

“People across America can take steps now to become more water competent and to make sure their children become water competent too,” Woodruff said.

From putting up fences to teaching children to swim, adults can take various steps to encourage safety and lessen the likelihood of drowning.

Utah Swim Academy owner Jo D Jones saw the need for earlier swim lessons this way: “I heard that drowning is a leading cause of kids under 4 years old. They said they wouldn’t teach them until they’re 5 years old. I said, that’s a problem because they’re drowning before then.”

Eighty percent of Americans claim they can swim, but only 56 percent can actually perform all five of the basic skills of life preservation in water, according to a study by the American Red Cross in May 2014.

“As soon as the umbilical cord comes off, they can float. They’re used to it. It’s not natural for them to stay away. You can have fences, you can be vigilant, but you just can’t watch them 24 hours,” Jones said.

These five skills of life preservation, also referred to as water competency, include one’s ability to step or jump into water above their head, return to the surface and float or tread water for at least one minute, turn completely around and locate an exit, swim 25 yards to the exit, and exit the water. If swimming in a pool, the swimmer must exit without using a ladder.

However, being able to swim may not be enough in some situations. “I want them to respect the water. It can be fun, but we have to teach them to be safe,” Jones said.

Even if a child or adult knows how to swim, using life jackets can help prevent drowning in open water like lakes, rivers or oceans. For children, parents must not confuse a life jacket as being the same as water wings.

“If I could, I would do away with water wings. It gives parents a false sense of security. If you’re coming to me, there are no more water wings — like ever,” Jones said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should avoid activities that could steal their attention, such as playing cards, reading books or talking on the phone while their children are swimming.

“My niece went under the water for no more than 20 seconds, and we had to pull her out of the water and do CPR. We were just chatting when she took off her floaties and went under,” said Provo police officer Travis Bushman.

Experts suggest that if parents notice their child is missing, they should first look in places where children could gain access to water, including the backyard pool, bathroom, etc. A few seconds could be the difference between life and death.

“More than not in Provo, when we get called out for drownings, it’s the Provo River, private pools or even bathtubs with kids. The biggest thing is not leaving them unattended. Never leave those kids unattended,” Bushman said.

What to do if someone is drowning

Even with proper preparation and prevention, sometimes drowning situations are unavoidable. That is why knowing what to do when someone is drowning is critical to turn the situation non-fatal.

“If they have kids, they should go through a CPR class, because they never know when they’re going to need it,” Bushman said.

If someone is drowning, others should remove the endangered as swiftly as possible from the water. If the drowning victim is not breathing on his or her own, someone should begin CPR immediately. Another person nearby should call 911.

If someone is alone with the drowning victim, the person helping should not stop CPR to call 911. If the victim and help are alone, they should wait until the victim’s breathing has resumed before seeking emergency treatment.

Once paramedics arrive, they will give the victim oxygen and continue CPR if necessary.

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