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Drowning a quick, deadly danger

Officials say most local incidents this summer involve small lapses in adult supervision

Posted: July 28, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Eight to 10 children have been airlifted to hospitals due to drownings or near-drownings in the Santa Clarita Valley so far this summer, and fire officials are urging parents to be ever vigilant wherever children and water mix.

In 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, there were 13 drownings or near-drownings in the Santa Clarita Valley over the course of the entire summer, Los Angeles County Fire Department spokeswoman Stephanie English said.

On Monday, a 2-year-old boy was airlifted to a hospital following a near-drowning in a Canyon Country pool. On July 19, a 3-year-old boy was airlifted following a near-drowning in Valencia.

The Fire Department does not track whether the child survives following an emergency run on a near-drowning, although English said many of the children who do live through the experience can become brain dead from oxygen deprivation.

Brian Clayton, a firefighter and paramedic who works out of Fire Station 107 in a Canyon Country, has responded to a few of the drownings this summer and said most involved parents who said they only turned away from their child for a second.

“The next thing they know, they turn around and their child is floating somewhere in the pool,” Clayton said.

While many people expect a child in trouble in the pool would flail around and draw attention, Fire Department Inspector Tony Imbrenda says drowning is a silent process.

Statistically, most drownings occur within five minutes of the parent seeing the child safe in the house.

“It’s not something that can take an extended period of time,” Imbrenda said. “It can actually occur very quickly and in very shallow water.”

With most of the near-drownings this year, parents have noticed their child was in the water within a few minutes, Clayton said.

“We’ve been really lucky to see that the child is seen within a minute or two,” Clayton said. “The child woke up and started coughing.”

If a child is motionless in the water, he or she should be removed from the water and someone should call 911 as soon as possible — even if the child is coughing and breathing, Clayton said.

In both child and adult drownings, pulmonary edema — fluid backup in the lungs — can occur within minutes or hours of when the victim is found.

“You get almost a rebound drowning,” Clayton said.

Parents should learn CPR so they can at least administer chest compressions, which can help circulate blood and force water out of the lungs, Clayton said. More advanced forms of breathing techniques can also be learned, but they take a longer period of training.

“You could save a child’s life or anyone’s life by doing CPR while paramedics are en route,” English said. “A minute makes a difference.”

In addition to having a sober, nondistracted adult watching children in the pool at all times, parents should also install fences and alarmed gates and doors around pools, English said.

The California Swimming Pool Safety Act requires pools that are deeper than 2 feet to have a 5-foot fence around them and latching gates.

Even if people don’t have children, they can be responsible citizens by making sure children are safe around water, English said.

“Be an involved citizen and take a look at what’s going on in the pool,” English said. “Just by watching, you might actually be able to save a life.”



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