Watch your kids around water
Austin Paffenroth, a swim instructor at the Ahwatukee Community Center and Swim Club, teaches swim techniques to a group of 5- to 8-year-olds Thursday at the facility. Brian Johnson | AFN

As temperatures start to inch up the thermometer, that backyard pool will start to look more enticing.

And that means it's time for Arizona's swimming and water safety season, complete with reminders to watch kids around water and take preventative measures to make sure drownings don't occur.

"We are up to three fatalities involving children this year, and it hasn't even hit 100 degrees. That's troubling," said Tiffaney Isaacson, water safety coordinator at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

That's where Maricopa County was this time last year. A total of 17 children died in drowning incidents in 2009, Isaacson said.

In addition to the three child drownings so far this year, Maricopa has had a total of 23 water safety incidents involving children, according to website There have been five incidents involving adults that have resulted in two deaths.

A lot of drownings have similarities, Isaacson said. Many are in a backyard swimming pool, the supervisor is a parent and there are a lot of distractions around, like a weekend gathering or it's the end of the day and a parent is trying to figure out what to make for dinner.

"There isn't any community that is immune, and there isn't any family that is immune to a drowning. Drownings can happen anywhere in the Valley, and they do," Isaacson said. "We don't have to be terrified about enjoying the water with our families, but we have to be proactive."

Summer holidays are an especially predictable time for drownings, Isaacson said.

Phoenix Fire Capt. Rich Bauer echoed that sentiment, encouraging having at least one adult at all times just watching kids at holiday events.

"When you have the group setting around the barbecue and stuff like that, you need to take the time to have a designated child watcher," Bauer said. "(Drowning is) a silent killer. It just takes a few moments for a child to slide under the water."

And it's not enough to keep a child within earshot, Isaacson said.

"Drownings are silent. Sometimes we think if we don't have our eyes on the child it's OK, because you can hear them," Isaacson said. "I have known families that has happened to, where they just haven't heard the child go into the water."


The economic factor

The economy can also be a factor in increasing drowning risks, since many prevention steps such as installing pool fences, getting kids into swim and CPR classes and paying for experienced childcare cost money, Isaacson said.

That's why programs like Adopt-a-Pool-Fence exist. The program, which is run by the United Phoenix Firefighters Association and the Valley of the Sun United Way, has installed nearly 600 pool fences for needy families since it began in 2004, said Bauer, who is also director of community programs for the firefighters' group.

Maricopa County families can apply if they have a child age 6 or younger, are in an owner-occupied home and demonstrate financial need. While the program hasn't had a huge demand in Ahwatukee Foothills, some fences have been installed in older areas, Bauer said.

Demand for swim lessons at the Ahwatukee Community Swim and Tennis Center is up this year, although about five of the 50 people currently signed up did say they chose the location partially because it cost less and had lower student-to-teacher ratios than some of the other options they looked at, said community center director Susan Hyden.

"Swimming is just a lifelong skill you can do. It's so beneficial, whether it's life saving or exercise or fun," she said.

Hyden noted that there are noticeable improvements in children's swimming after they finish summer lessons, whether they're doing beginning lessons or participating on the center's swim team.

Beyond teaching children to swim, lessons also help parents learn techniques to teaching their kids about the water. Hyden recommended signing up kids for lessons, then take the techniques you observe instructors using with your children and reinforce those lessons in your home pool.

"Some parents may not even know where to start. Some parents may not be good swimmers themselves, or not know the techniques," Hyden said.

The Community Center has offered CPR and first aid classes in the past, but hasn't had enough interest recently to schedule them.

The Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA and the city's Pecos Pool are a few other options for swim lessons in Ahwatukee.

The firefighters also offer CPR classes, which cost $20 to pay for certification, at a variety of locations. For groups of eight or more, a firefighter can come to you for the classes, he said.

A similar program is available for babysitting certification.

Information on all the firefighters' programs is available at Find out about community center swim lessons at, the YMCA's programs at and Pecos Pool's lessons at


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.