Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning — It Occurs Quickly & Quietly

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Provided by Prince William Fire & Rescue

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It’s that time of year when children and adults head to the pool or spa to relax and cool off as the heat and humidity begin to rise. Yet each year, water-related injuries and deaths occur in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ten people die from unintentional drowning, every day. Of these, two will be children aged 14 or younger.

Drowning ranks fifth among leading causes of unintentional injury death of all ages in the U.S. Among those fatal statistics, one in five are children, 14 years and younger, and for every child that drowns another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries which can lead to severe brain damage resulting in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities and a permanent vegetative state.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional deaths for children younger than 5 and the second leading cause of death for children 5 – 14 years of age. For children ages 1 – 14, fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes. A swimming pool is 14 times more likely to be involved in the death of a child, age 4 and under, than a motor vehicle. Reports indicate, children within this age group die from drowning more than any other cause of death except birth defects.

Annually, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) compiles an end of summer drowning report which tracks the tragic toll of child drownings across the U.S. In 2014, beginning Memorial Day through Labor Day, approximately 174 children under the age of 14 drowned in a pool or spa; 112 of those children were under the age of 5. Of those incidents, 67% of the reported fatal drownings and 64% of injuries involved children 1-3 years of age. According to CPSC, fatal submersions involving younger children often occur when adults are present, yet become distracted, resulting in a lapse of adult supervision.

When a person is drowning, people assume they’ll be able to hear them drowning or know when they’re in trouble, but on the contrary, drowning is swift and silent. Someone struggling to stay afloat and breathe is often unable to wave their arms or call for help; therefore, they drown in silence without attracting attention.

Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee urges residents to be vigilant in preventing injuries and drownings by taking the following precautions when you and your loved ones are in and near water:


  • NEVER leave a child unsupervised near a pool, spa, bathtub, toilet, water-filled bucket, pond or any standing body of water for even a second!
  • ALWAYS designate a responsible adult to be the “Water Watcher” of young children while in and around water. The designated adult should not be involved in other distracting activities, i.e. answering the phone, playing games, etc.
  • Install a four-sided, five-foot fence gate that is self-closing and self-latching (latches should be above a child’s reach). The fence should surround any pool or spa with openings no more than four inches wide to prevent children from squeezing through the spaces. For more information visit the Building Development Division at pwcgov.org/BDD and click on Pool, Spa or Hot Tub listed under Improvements & Construction.
  • DO NOT use flotation devices, i.e., air-filled or foam toys, noodles or inner tubes in place of life jackets/pfds (personal flotation devices). Many flotation devices are considered as toys and not designed to keep swimmers safe.
  • DO NOT allow children to play in and around the pool or spa area. Remove all toys, balls and floats from around or in a pool.
  • Learn to swim
    • Formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children 1 – 4 years of age.
  • Avoid swimming after dark and in muddy waters of lakes, ponds and rivers.
  • Regardless of one’s swimming ability, size of the boat or distance to be traveled, require all persons to wear U.S. Coast Guard approved lifejackets/personal flotation devices (pfds) when boating or involved in water-related recreational activities.
  • DO NOT dive into above-ground pools, shallow water or water where you don’t know the depth. Diving into shallow water can cause spinal injuries.
  • ALWAYS swim and/or boat with a buddy and select areas with lifeguards.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption or use of other drugs while supervising children during recreational water activities participating in recreational water activities.
  • Check the local weather conditions prior to engaging in recreational water activities.
  • Learn CPR! It saves lives.

Individuals can reduce, even eliminate, water-related injuries and deaths by simply changing their behavior. Hence, before heading to the park, beach or local neighborhood pool, implement safety measures that will protect you and your loved ones when in or near water.


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