A national safety group is using Nevada as an example for a campaign to reduce the number of child drownings around the country.
Officials with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission blended news reports with census data to suggest that Nevada has more child drownings per capita than any other state in the nation.
“All drownings are preventable,” said Jim Luetkemeyer, spokesman for a commission “Pool Safely” program that emphasizes the need to designate an adult “water-watcher” any time children are around swimming pools. Campaign officials are taking part this week in the Pool Spa Patio Expo in Las Vegas.
The campaign recommends putting locked fences around pools, teaching children to swim and having parents learn cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
Southern Nevada fire and health officials who keep comprehensive numbers of drownings said drowning deaths of children in and around Las Vegas have been cut in half during the past 15 years.
“Kids don’t scream. They don’t splash. There may not be any signs of distress,” said Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesman Tim Szymanski, who also serves as public affairs officer for the Southern Nevada Child Drowning Prevention Coalition.
Szymanski noted that different agencies measure the issue in different ways.
The Clark County coroner classifies children as 17 and under and includes drownings from the Lake Mead and Lake Mohave reservoirs on the Colorado River. It recorded 12 drowning deaths in 2015, four in 2014, five in 2013, nine in 2012 and eight in 2011.
Separate statistics kept by the Southern Nevada Health District, focusing on children 14 and under, suggest that awareness and prevention efforts begun in 1999 involving public health and building officials, police and firefighters have had an effect.
The average was 10 drownings a year from 1994 to 1999, according to health district tabulations of drowning fatalities and non-fatal cases. The latter are classified as “submersion incidents.”
The figure dropped by one-third from 2000-2005, ticked up in 2007-2009, and dropped to just two child drownings in 2014. There have been seven so far this year.
“We’ve developed a pretty broad base of people who all preach the same message,” said Mike Bernstein, health district injury prevention coordinator. “We have made a dent in it.”
Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County are now home to about 2 million people, and a destination for some 40 million tourists annually. Bernstein said the region has more than 105,000 backyard swimming pools.
Over the past 21 years, most deaths involved children 4 and younger, he said. Most drownings happen during warmer months from May to September.
When data in 2011-2012 showed an increase in drownings and near-drownings involving Hispanic children, the coalition distributed messages in Spanish emphasizing what it calls the ABC&Ds of drowning prevention.
Like the national Pool Safely program, the local child drowning coalition effort advocates adult supervision, barriers for pools, classes teaching swimming lessons and devices for flotation and rescue.
“Last year was statistically the best we’ve ever had,” Bernstein said. “This year, there’s been an uptick. We don’t know if people are ignoring the message, if it’s a trend, or if it’s just a bad year.”
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