As Maricopa residents flock to the pool to beat the summer heat, Maricopa Fire and Medical Department is advising residents to be extra vigilant in and around water through a month-long water safety campaign.

Maricopa Fire and Medical Department Assistant Chief Chris Bolinger in an undated photo. Image courtesy of City of Maricopa.

“Children are innocent, precious and valuable, and drownings are so preventable,” said MFMD Assistant Chief Christopher Bolinger.

It’s a heavy but timely topic. Maricopa saw two drowning deaths take place so far this year – a 2-year-old girl who died in March after being pulled from a pool and a 55-year-old man in April.

Highlighting drowning dangers

Drowning is the leading cause of death of children ages 1-4, according to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. Since 2018, Maricopa has experienced 16 drowning deaths. All but three were children.

Bolinger said it doesn’t take much for a drowning to happen.

“Drowning can occur in as little as 2 inches of water,” Bolinger said. “Because children have large heads, they can have difficulty getting out of things such as toilets, buckets of water or bathtubs. But typically, drownings occur in a pool.”

And while death often takes the headlines when it comes to drowning calls, the often lifelong damage sustained from water-related injuries is also dangerous. The primary concern in medical emergencies is oxygen.

“Hypoxia is definitely the biggest concern,” Bolinger said. “Our primary goal (in a drowning call) is to return oxygenated blood flow to the brain.”

Hypoxia is a lack of oxygen to the brain. Brain death can begin in as little as five minutes without oxygen, according to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Other concerns Bolinger listed included contracting sepsis from poorly maintained pools and head trauma from falls.

Promoting the 5 Layers of Protection

Pools are the primary culprit since water fun can stay on a child’s mind for hours, said MFMD spokesperson Monica Williams.

“(The National Drowning Prevention Alliance) has done research showing that if you’ve gone swimming earlier in the day, kids are still in swimming mode and want to go back to the pool,” Williams said. “Parents are thinking, ‘we’re done with that,’ but it could still be on the kid’s mind.”

Data from NDPA shows 23% of child drownings happen during a family gathering near a pool and 88% of child drownings occur with at least one adult present.

This sad fact is why MFMD is pushing a water safety campaign based around the NDPA’s 5 Layers of Protection: barriers and alarms, supervision, water competency, life jackets and emergency preparation. Each of these layers reduce the potential of a water injury or death.

“We want to build those layers of protection so that if children get past the barriers, the adult sees them. If not and the child gets in the pool, they can still keep their head above water,” Bolinger said. “Ideally, the next layer will prevent a tragedy.”

Of the five, Bolinger said there is no substitute for supervision.

“That is one of the biggest risk factors that makes children vulnerable,” Bolinger said. “Children tend to be very curious, and they can get out of sight quickly.”

Upcoming water safety day

To culminate its messaging, MFMD will host a water safety event June 3 from 1-4 p.m. at Copper Sky Aquatic Center. Members of the department will provide information on water safety, demonstrate water-rescue techniques and showcase their vehicles.

Williams said even though water safety is promoted heavily in the summer months, it’s a year-round issue.

“Our water safety messaging never stops here in Arizona,” Williams said. “Yes, we push it in the summer because it’s on everybody’s mind, but … there’s never not a water season here.”