Watch your children; accidents do happen

Scott Hilyard

Jeff Brandes had just returned to his lifeguard chair at Five Points Washington after fishing a 2-year-old out of the wading pool who had fallen face first in the water and then struggled to get up.

What he saw next surprised him.

The same kid leaped into the deep end and sank like a bag of rocks.

"Jeff had just gotten out of the pool from helping this kid, and he jumped right back in to save the same boy a second time," said Brandes’ boss, Five Points Aquatics manager Jane Austin. "It was unbelievable. (Jeff) took the boy over to his mother, and her first response was ‘Oh, where was he?’"

Austin is quick to point out that the vast majority of mothers, fathers and grandparents who participate in the weekday morning "Fun Splash" in the Leisure Pool are attentive to the children in their care.

Others? Not so much.

"Watch your kids, that’s my advice," Austin said. "We have lifeguards on duty, but people shouldn’t treat them as baby sitters. Parents need to keep a close eye."

Pools and children are a not-uncommon lethal combination. In 2001, a child drowned in a local hotel pool during a birthday party. Numerous news accounts through the years have chronicled a sadly similar story — small child breaks briefly from adult supervision and drowns in the family swimming pool. More than 800 children drown in the United States each year, about 40 percent in backyard swimming pools.

It happens quickly and quietly, read a story in the Journal Star in 2005.

"Kids don’t splash around or make a lot of noise when they’re drowning," said Dr. Gary Smith, a pediatric emergency physician at Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Almost daily, Austin and her lifeguards see parents out of the pool chatting on cell phones, to each other or are otherwise inattentive while their young children play in the water alone. She once received a letter from a mom who complained she got her jeans wet when she had to go in and pick up her child who had fallen in the shallow pool.

Aimee Rauh of Washington was at the pool with her young daughter and witnessed the lifeguard’s double-save of the young boy. She was sufficiently appalled to write a letter to the Journal Star.

"I am writing this letter in the hope that it will remind parents just how quickly a fun day at the pool can turn tragic," she wrote. "Children at this age can get away from you in the blink of an eye, which is all it takes for them to slip under the water and drown. A child can drown in just a few inches of water in a matter of seconds."

She had high praise for Brandes, the quick-to-respond lifeguard.

"I am sure that little boy would have drowned had Jeff not noticed him among the many other splashing children in the water," she wrote. "I plead with all parents not to overestimate their children’s abilities in the water."

This week, Austin and lifeguard Nick Morrissey watched over a pool full of children during the morning "Fun Splash." Each one had a grown-up within arms’ reach.

"This is a good day," said Austin.

"We’re watching," said lifeguard Morrissey. "But a parent can prevent a kid from getting in trouble in the water by paying close attention. It’s pretty simple."

Scott Hilyard can be reached at (309) 686-3244 or at