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April 23, 2014

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Pool season’s approach brings call for drowning-prevention measures

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Christopher DeVargas

Voulunteer lifeguards at the Silver Mesa Recreation Center in North Las Vegas demonstrate the procedures for the rescue and aid of a near drowning victim, Monday April 1, 2013. The simulated demonstration is done in honor of “April Pools Day”, and day created by the Southern Nevada Child Drowning Prevention Coalition (SNCDPC).

April Pools Day

North Las Vegas Fire & Rescue and voulunteer lifeguards at the Silver Mesa Recreation Center in North Las Vegas demonstrate the procedures for the rescue and aid of a near drowning victim, Monday April 1, 2013. The simulated demonstration is done in honor of Launch slideshow »

It was almost five years ago when it happened.

Brianna and Joe Rukavina had saved for months to buy a $1,500 fence for their pool to make absolutely sure that Clayre, their 13-month-old daughter, would be safe.

At last, they had the money, and Joe had scheduled some time off from work to put up the fence.

But two weeks before he had the chance to install the partition, the little girl fell into the pool and drowned. There was no screaming or loud splashing. It was quick, and it was quiet.

On April 7, 2008, the same day their daughter died, Brianna and Joe started a foundation in her name. They began the Clayre’s Pool Fence Fund to help families buy fences to protect their children from a similar fate.

Telling the story still brings tears to Brianna’s eyes.

“This can happen to anyone, and it only takes a moment,” she said. “ When people say a pool fence is ugly, it is so much uglier to see a child in the hospital.”

Representatives from the Southern Nevada Child Drowning Prevention Coalition echoed her message Monday as they gathered at the Silver Mesa Recreation Center to talk about pool safety and drowning prevention during what they called "April Pools Day," heralding the start of the pool season.

Gregory Blackburn, who chairs the coalition, said it’s important for parents to take a multilayered approach to pool safety.

Pool-related deaths, he said, are preventable.

“We don’t need a research lab to find a cure,” he said.

Some people think they’ll hear their child struggling in the water and have the chance to come to the rescue, he said.

“It’s not a child splashing around and crying for help,” he said. “It’s quiet, then they’re gone. A drowning can occur in seconds, in any body of water.”

That includes buckets of water, bathtubs, and in one case, an ice chest with water that had melted.

Drowning deaths are most common among children 4 or younger. Between 2000 and 2012, 80 of the 96 drowning victims in Clark County were 4-years-old or younger, according to the coalition’s website. In the same time period there were 546 near-drowning incidents in Southern Nevada. The website said about 20 percent of those involved in near-drownings suffer severe neurological damage.

Blackburn said many of these drownings or near-drownings happen at pools in the backyard of private homes.

But there are many ways for parents to protect children from danger.

Blackburn said parents should teach their children to swim. He said parents could reach out to their local parks and recreation department to schedule swimming lessons.

Latch fence doors, block off slits in a gate meant for an animal, and wrap your child in a flotation device at the public, or home pool, he said.

An alarm might also be a good option for some families, Blackburn said. One product the coalition recommends is the Safety Turtle, a device that can be put on a child’s arm and is set off as soon as water touches it. Blackburn said parents also might consider installing an alarm on the gate to the backyard pool.

But he said not to rely on any one form of protection.

Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesman Tim Szymanski said a joint effort is crucial in the mission to cut down on pool drownings.

“They can’t fix it if they don’t know what’s broke,” Szymanski said. “We see what’s broke and we need to tell them.”

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