Sunday, July 18, 1999

Rash of near-drownings keeps lifeguards alert

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A high number of drownings and near-drownings in recent weeks, including a close call last week at a city pool, has caught the full attention of Cincinnati's 300-plus lifeguards.

        “I just wish that I could have been there for some of them kids,” said Steve Graham, 16, a first-year lifeguard at South Fairmount Pool.

        This year, 26 children have been admitted to Children's Hospital Medical Center for near-drownings or submersion injuries. Last week's incident was the first at a city-run pool. Two children have died at non-city pools.

        “It makes me think twice about what I'm doing,” said Steve, who works at one of 46 city pools.

        Cincinnati, which has 336,400 residents, has more community pools and lifeguards per capita than any city in the United States, said Wayne Bain, acting director of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.

        Mr. Bain said the outbreak has made his lifeguards more observant even though the accidents happened primarily at pools not required to have lifeguards.

        “They are very aware of the rash of things that have been happening,” he said. “(It's) a reminder to our staff how important it is to always be alert to any incident and be prepared to bring anyone out that may have a problem no matter what.

        “When you see it on TV, you hear it on the radio, you hear the rash of near-drownings or something happened to a person at a pool whether there's lifeguards or not, it makes the staff even more aware that this is a very important job,” Mr. Bain said.

        To keep the lifeguards alert, the commission requires guards in chairs and rovers to rotate every 15 minutes. And before daily swim sessions, lifeguards go over safety drills, including rescue attempts. Each lifeguard is responsible for designated zones.

        “They're trained every week on what to do in case of an emergency,” Mr. Bain said. “They know it can happen. They know it will happen. They know they're going to pull someone out of the pool at some time.”

        DeShawn Pate, 5, who last week was accidently pushed into the city pool at Washington Park Pool, has since been released from Children's. Meanwhile, Justin Brown, 11, remains in serious condition. The Bond Hill boy nearly drowned after being under water for at least five minutes while his sitter — who couldn't swim — watched helplessly at an apartment complex in Roselawn.

        “Near-drowning,” a term that refers to cases in which a person is in danger of suffocating under water, varies in severity. At Children's Hospital, cases range from children who are released immediately to those who suffer severe brain damage, hospital spokesman Jim Feuer said.


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