Summer is now in full swing. From Lake Whatcom to backyard swimming pools all across Bellingham and Whatcom County, kids are swarming to the water. It reminds me of my own experience enjoying long summer days at the community pool. What fun we had, until someone dove into the shallow end – even knowing this is against the rules. Everything stopped while the lifeguard checked out the kid who came to the surface with a dazed look and nose bleeding. Everyone said it could have been much worse.
Many swimming places do not have some of the safeguards a public pool must. No lifeguard, and sometimes no nearby adult supervision. Also, often there are no available lifejackets or rescue equipment in case an accident does occur unless swimmers provide these things themselves.
Backyard pools can be particularly dangerous. It is up to the homeowner to keep the pool as safe a place as possible. There are some things we can do to prevent accidents in the pool, and some of the tips I never would have thought of myself. The government’s site on pool safety lists the following items recommended for a safety toolkit to always have on hand:
- A first aid kid – this is a no-brainer, but make sure it’s well stocked and that everyone knows where it is
- A pair of scissors to cut clothing, hair, or a pool cover in case someone gets caught. Strong drains, such as the ones in hot tubs, can be lethal if they pull a child under water.
- A charged cell phone. Again, most likely someone has one nearby, but it’s useless if it’s not easily accessible or charged
- A flotation device
But what about a backyard pool that isn’t being used. Is it still a danger? Sometimes little kids just can’t resist the temptation, and if no one is watching, it could be a recipe for disaster. Make sure you have a barrier installed. A fence or other such barrier should be at least four feet high, without footholds or handholds that a young child could use to climb it. Any vertical slats should be narrow enough that no small child could squeeze through. For above-ground pools, the steps or ladder that climbs into the pool can be secured, locked, or removed to prevent access, or you can install a barrier or fence around the steps or ladder.
Above all, before even dipping a toe in, make sure everyone has been trained on water safety. Children as young as six months can learn how to stay calm in the water. A program called Infant Swimming Resource is a must for parents and guardians of young children. Please visit the site to for a checklist of things to do to keep infants calm in the water. It’s surprising to see the pictures of young infants comfortably floating in the swimming pool, but all it takes is some education and training to build life-saving skills and confidence. Even if you are not in an area where you can attend a water safety for infants class in person, there are many videos that can inform parents and guardians on helping kids stay safe in the water. This video on an infant self-rescuing is incredible. As described above, a pool without a barrier and no adult around could have ended up very differently had this toddler not known what to do alone in a swimming pool.
Here are a couple links to local swim classes for kids:
Youth Swim Lessons at Western Washington University
Whatcom Family YMCA Swim Lessons
Have fun and enjoy your summer vacation – and make sure everyone has the knowledge to stay safe.