Water Safety and Drowning Prevention

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Provided by Prince William Fire & Rescue

Summer is fast approaching! With Memorial Day just around the corner and schools closing for the season, families begin planning their summer vacation. For many, that will include heading to water parks, pools, spas or recreational areas that may be in or near water. When doing so, Prince William County Fire and Rescue advises families to take the necessary precautions to prevent drownings.

A small child can drown in just a few centimeters of water as a bucket of water. In the U.S. alone nearly 800 children drown each year. 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.

The majority of fatal submersions occur at residential locations. People assume that when a person is drowning, they will be able to hear them drowning or know when they are in trouble. 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, and they drown in silence without attracting attention.

Suction Entrapment in Pools, Spas/Hot Tubs and Whirlpool Bathtubs
Hot tubs, spas and whirlpool bathtubs are often overlooked as a drowning danger for children. Incidents of unintentional drownings among these water-related recreational devices result in falls into the water, hair that becomes tangled in drains or jets, or from body parts becoming trapped.

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 or 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 with a gate. The gate should be 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
    Residential Pools, Spas, & Hot Tubs listed under Improvements & Construction.
  • DO NOT use flotation devices, e.g., 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.
  • DO NOT allow under water play in a hot tub or spa.
  • Know where the pump cutoff switch is located, in the hot tub or spa, so it can be turned off in an emergency.
  • Keep a locked safety cover on the hot tub or spa when not in use.
  • Learn to swim! 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 or 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. So 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.

For more information, visit the World Health Organization who.int, Center for Disease Control and Prevention cdc.gov, Safe Kids Worldwide safekids.org and Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Pool or Spa Submersion Report, 2017 at cpsc.gov.


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