Opinion: Pools and doggie doors = formula for disaster

An adventurous little girl being welcomed through a doggie door by the new family dog almost spelled disaster to a California family visiting Phoenix last week. Her squeals of delight probably saved her life.

Last time the Martinez kids visited their Arizona cousins was last Labor Day. Luke was 4 and couldn’t quite reach the sink to wash his hands, or the latch to open the backyard pool gate. Sam was 6 and learning to ride a bike and to swim. He was pretty good at both, but needed more practice. Yolanda was just learning to walk toward outstretched hands and also learning to run away from them when she was feeling especially sassy.

William? He was the big kid who could be trusted to keep them all safe and happy while the adults caught up on family news. Even in auntie’s back yard, where the sparkling pool was safely fenced.

But this visit is different. Luke has grown and can wash his hands without help. And he can reach the pool gate, too. Sam can ride his bike without wobbling, but he hasn’t been swimming in almost nine months and he “kinda forgot how to do it.”

Yolanda? She’s running and climbing and feeling sassy most of the time. William is still the big kid who can be trusted with the littles, but does he realize how they’ve grown and changed since the last Arizona visit and how he must heighten his vigilance around the pool?

Their mom and auntie hadn’t really thought about it either. Then they heard Yolanda’s squeals and the puppy’s enthusiastic yips as the two of them crawled out of the doggie door, which led straight into the pool enclosure.

“She squealed with delight as the new dog showed her his gateway into the back yard. The dog and doggie door are new since we’ve been here, and we didn’t even think about the danger it posed,” said her usually vigilant mom, Anna. “We’re all really careful around the pool, but each kid, in the nine months since we have been here, has grown and changed. That means we have to adjust our safety measures.”

American Red Cross water safety instructors agree.

Kristin Bolick, longtime water safety and lifeguard instructor, is a mom, grandmother and emergency medical technician in a hospital emergency department. “You MUST constantly evaluate everyone’s safety around a pool. That includes elders as well as children,” she said.

Bolick knows that firsthand. “Nobody is ever ‘waterproof.’ Several layers of safety measures must be in place to help keep people safe. Swim lessons. Safety fences and self-latching gates. Locking doors with alarms. Responsible adults who are truly watching the kids every moment.”

She lists several more safety measures.

“Have water rescue equipment close by. Keep a phone fully accessible so you can call 911 if someone needs help. Know CPR. If you are supervising kids around a pool, stand up near the edge—sitting or lying down on a chair keeps you from seeing a child near the edge of the pool.”

A Mesa mom learned that lesson in a frightening afternoon when she and another mom supervised fourth graders at an end of the year school swim party. A toddler slipped into the water, unnoticed, and then clung to the edge of the pool.

“There was no splash—no crying—we thought we were watching. We both sat within a couple feet of the pool and kept our eyes on the kids. Then one of them yelled that the baby needed help. Baby? We had no idea he had slipped in and was clinging to the side of the pool, just three feet from us.”

Her advice? STAND UP on the edge of the pool when you are “on duty.”

And that brings up another tip from the Red Cross instructor. “It’s sadly common for a child to drown when several adults are present and all of them are ‘watching the kids.’ Designate one adult to be the full-time, responsible watcher for half an hour, then transfer that responsibility to someone else. Maybe use a special hat or lanyard to indicate who is responsible for the kids.”

She makes another important point. “Don’t drink alcohol while you are watching children around water. Stay sharp. Don’t allow rough-housing or running around a pool. Slipping and falling can be disastrous. That includes adults as well as kids.”

Her last piece of advice? “Learn to swim, and teach your kids to swim. It’s great exercise and family time to be in the pool in the summer time. Have fun! Just don’t ever think your kids are totally water proof.”

For more water safety information, contact redcross.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS.

Trudy Thompson Shumaker is a Red Cross volunteer.

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