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Summer brings increase in drownings

Laila and Jeff Stone took safety precautions. A locked door separated their house from the screened-in pool.

But somehow 3-year-old Aslan eluded those measures. One day in April, Mrs. Stone found Aslan floating unconscious in the pool at the family's Clearwater home. He was declared dead at All Children's Hospital a couple of hours later.

"We had safety features and they fell through," said Laila Stone. "I think it's silly not to practice poolside precautions."

In Florida, drownings are always a threat. But in summer, when families use their pools more than ever, the concern is greatest.

In the United States, nearly 4,000 people drown each year. In Florida, 336 drowned in 1993, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Last year there were 10 drownings in Pinellas County. An additional 37 people suffered injuries related to being submerged, said David Harrawood of Pinellas County Fire/Emergency Medical Services.

Nearly half of the 47 victims were younger than 3, and more than half of the accidents occurred in pools.

Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for toddlers.

This year, All Children's Hospital has seen two deaths due to drowning, said the hospital's Dr. Albert Saltiel, who also is medical director of Florida Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition.

Four victims who survived received cardiopulmonary resuscitation by their family members at the scene of the accident, said Saltiel. Learning CPR is essential for all parents who have pools.

"I think if it's worth their child's life then it's worth their time to learn," Saltiel said.

There are a number of precautions parents can take to protect their kids from drowning. But the most important tip is for parents to be present whenever children are near the pool, said Dr. Herbert Pomerance, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A common theme in drownings is that a parent left the child for just a moment to answer the door or get the phone and returned to find the child in the pool, said Harrawood.

"The pool owner with children needs to recognize the potential hazard, and they need to take the appropriate measure to ensure that an accident doesn't take place," said Harrawood.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pools are not the only water hazard around the house. Buckets, diaper pails, ice chests with melted ice, toilets, bathtubs, hot tubs, spas, irrigation ditches, post holes, wells, ponds and fountains all present a risk for small children.

Just last week, a 10-month-old Tampa boy died after he fell into a 5-gallon bucket partly filled with water. His mother left him with a 1-year-old neighbor just for a moment to answer the phone.

Also last week, an 11-month-old Clearwater boy nearly drowned in a bathtub. His mother left him briefly to check on other children in the front yard.

Two months after losing his own son, Jeff Stone said pool safety should be as routine as buckling up in the car.

"It ranks right up there with putting seat belts on," said Stone.

POOL SAFETY TIPS

Pinellas County Fire/Emergency Medical Services provides a free home pool survey to identify risks and hazards and to recommend safety measures that should be in place. For more information, call 582-2000 or your local fire department.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, families with children less than 5 years old should not have pools. But if there is a pool at home, the academy suggests the following:

Never leave your children alone in or near the pool, even for a moment.

Install a 5-foot fence around all sides of the pool that completely separates the pool from the house and play area of the yard.

Use gates that are self-closing and self-latching, with latches higher than your children can reach.

A motorized pool cover operated by a switch that meets the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials adds to the protection of your children but should not be used in place of the fence.

Keep rescue equipment (such as a shepherd's hook or life preserver) and a cordless telephone by the pool.

Avoid air-filled "swimming aids" because they are not a substitute for approved life vests and can be dangerous.

Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to rescue a child.

Remove all toys from the pool after use so children aren't tempted to reach for them.

After the children are done swimming, secure the pool so they can't get back into it.

Remember, teaching your child how to swim does not mean your child is safe in the water.

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